In August 2006, there was a credible terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives. They would be carried on board airliners traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada. The liquids would be disguised as soft drinks, and would blow up select United Airlines, Air Canada and American Airlines flights originating from London Heathrow Airport.
Fortunately, authorities discovered the plot before it could be carried out. Twenty-four suspects were eventually arrested in and around London for questioning. Of those, 9 were eventually tried. Seven of those were found guilty of conspiracy charges.
In the immediate days after the plot was discovered, most countries banned all (or nearly all) liquids from carry on bags. These rules were eventually eased in the months following the event. But ever since then, passengers at most commercial airports around the world have had to limit the amount of liquids they bring with them when going through airport security.
In the U.S. this is commonly known as the 3-1-1 liquid rule. As per the TSA, “each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols.” In countries that use the metric system, the rule is essentially the same, but it’s 100ml containers that can fit in a 1 liter (or sometimes, depending on the country, 20cm x 20cm) bag.
It’s easy enough to get around the rule (Psst! Here’s a hack of how to do it) but some people would just as soon not.
The terrorist plot specifically included Canada, the U.S. and Europe, so let’s look at those three in the years since the event in 2006:
U.S. and Canada
In both the U.S. and Canada, the liquid rules have been temporarily updated to allow each passenger to carry up to 12 ounces (U.S.) or 355ml (Canada) of hand sanitizer in their carry on bag. This has been in response to the COVID epidemic.
The rules for both countries otherwise haven’t changed since they were put into place.
However anecdotally, there have been plenty of times that, at least in the U.S., passengers have brought liquids in their carry on in a much less organized way, as well as in amounts larger than the TSA’s rules would prefer. I know I’ve experienced it, and some of our readers have told us they’ve had the same experience.
As far back as 2008, the TSA has said it would ease its restrictions on liquids. It still hasn’t, save for hand sanitizer.
Meanwhile, Europe has gone through a decade of plans to drop its liquid rule. They’d plan it, it wouldn’t happen, and they’d plan it again 😉
- EU to end airline ban on liquids in carry-ons (by 2014 at the latest, NBC News, Oct. 2009)
- EU to phase out restrictions on liquids in carry-ons (by mid-2013. Salon, April 2010)
- Liquid control: an end to the ban? (in April 2011. Airport Technology, January 2011)
- EU abandons plan to end liquids curbs in air travel in 2013 (sad trombone, Bloomberg, July 2012)
- Europe to start easing liquids back onto planes (by 2016, USA Today, Nov. 2013)
- Airport security: could the ‘liquids rule’ finally be relaxed? (no date given, The Independent, July 2018)
- Is this the beginning of the end for liquid restrictions at airports? (The Telegraph, June 2019)
The reason both the U.S. and Europe have dabbled with the idea of easing restrictions on liquids is that technology has improved and airports are switching to CT scanners, which allows security staff to check bags on their screen in 3D, as well as rotate it 360 degrees. The CT scanners can also assess if any substance presents a threat. The goal with this new technology is so-called liquid rules can end. And that goal has finally come to fruition at an airport in Ireland.
Shannon Airport, the third-largest airport in the Republic of Ireland, has launched a new passenger screening system where passengers don’t have to worry about zip bags, container size, etc. From Shannon Airport’s website:
You can now carry your liquid items without size restriction in your carry-on luggage. You can carry liquids including water, baby food, medicines and other beverages, aerosol cans and toiletries like toothpaste, shaving cream, hair gel, lip gloss, and creams in your carry on luggage now without size limitations.
Of course, there are still a few guidelines that need to be followed:
- You can now take liquids, gels, pastes, lotions and cosmetics in containers of any size through the passenger security point at Shannon airport as long as it is safely contained within you hand luggage.
- These liquid containers must be carried within your hand luggage and be resealable containers, and they must be presented if reqested to the security screening officers.
- When passing through the passenger security point, you must place the cabin bag containing liquids, at the very top of the items within your security screening tray to anchor down any other items such as coats and belts onto your screening tray.
- All liquids must be contained within your hand luggage only, you must pack them yourself before reaching the security screening area at Shannon Airport to ensure a quick screening process.
Airport officials are also reminding passengers that other airports, both within Ireland and around the world, are still going by the old requirements. So they should check that airport’s requirements before deciding how to pack their liquids.
Amsterdam Schiphol airport has had the same technology in place for almost a year. In fact, when the CT scanner was first introduced there, more than one publication hinted this would be the end of “liquid rules” there. As of this writing, it’s not (except under specific circumstances).
As more airports around the world obtain these new scanners, hopefully more and more passengers will be able to fly without worrying about 3.4-ounce containers in 1-quart zip bags anymore. As it is, all major UK airports are on the calendar to have the technology by December 1, 2022. I’m convinced it will happen in the U.S. sooner or later, too. C’mon, TSA…let’s make it sooner!!! 😉
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