Government reluctant to row back on relaxing airport liquids restrictions

The government is resisting pressure to push back its June 1 deadline for UK airports to complete the installation of 3D scanners at security and end restrictions on liquids in cabin bags despite fears of it causing “turmoil” this summer.

Most of the UK’s largest airports have sought extensions or “alleviations” of the deadline announced by transport secretary Mark Harper in December 2022.

Jet2 chief Steve Heapy warned last week of a “summer of massive disruption and turmoil” if the government holds to the deadline when he spoke at the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) annual dinner in Glasgow.

But the government “doesn’t want to row back” on its pledge, according to a senior aviation source.

It wants advanced computed tomography (CT) scanners in place by June at all airports handling more than one million passengers a year so that rules limiting liquids in carry-on bags to 100mls and requiring their removal at security can be relaxed for the summer.

Most airports and airlines recognise this is not going to happen and are increasingly concerned about the likely confusion among passengers and resulting delays at security.

The aviation source confirmed: “Airports have appealed for ‘alleviation’ from the deadline, asking for extra time.

“If it had been up to the industry, we wouldn’t have the deadline. [But] the government made great play of this, saying ‘The era of the tiny toiletry is over’. They don’t want to row back on that in an election year.

“Some airports will be ready, others won’t – and it’s not surprising given the scale of the challenge. There are only two manufacturers of the scanners and there is significant construction work required at some airports.”

The source suggested: “The government wants to hold airports’ feet to the fire, but they can’t just wave a magic wand. Airports have to take out security lanes to install the scanners, but the government also doesn’t want security queues.”

The scanners are not only expensive and difficult to source, but their size and weight can mean airports need substantial redevelopment to accommodate them.

Of the biggest airports, only Luton is understood to be ready for June 1. Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted are understood to have sought “alleviation” from the deadline.

The source noted: “It’s a different picture at every airport. The new terminal at Manchester will be ready. The existing terminal won’t. Heathrow and Gatwick will have some scanners in place – the same at other airports.”

Heapy urged the industry to lobby MPs to delay the deadline, a call which is understood to have upset the Department for Transport.

The Jet2 boss told the SPAA: “The government wants the UK to be a world leader in aviation security, but the only thing we’ll be leading in is queues. Our airports are not ready. We must lobby for this deadline to be put back.”

Jet2 operates from 10 UK airports – Manchester, Stansted, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast International, Newcastle, Leeds Bradford and East Midlands – and will add Liverpool from late March.

Airports and airlines are trying to formulate advice to consumers if the government sticks to the deadline, with the source insisting: “We don’t want people turning up and losing perfumes and aftershave at security.”

Very few destination airports have the scanners and most may not have them for years to come, so the restrictions will remain on most return flights to the UK regardless of what the government says.

The source noted that in response to queries about the deadline: “All the Department for Transport will say is ‘We don’t comment on security matters’ and that is part of the reason we’re in this pickle.”

A second aviation source noted: “Passengers understand the current restrictions on liquids. Why change the messaging to passengers before everyone is ready? It will cause chaos.”

Restrictions on liquids in carry-on bags have been in place since August 2006 following the foiling of a bomb plot using liquid explosives in cabin luggage on a US-bound flight from the UK.

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