Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports are set to miss a summer deadline for installing new security scanners that will end the 100ml limit on liquids in hand luggage.
Ministers had given airports a target of June 1 to install the high-tech machines, which will reduce hassle for passengers, speed up security and reduce waste by ending the need for mini toiletries.
But Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester say they do not expect to have the scanners ready by then – despite the deadline already having been moved back from 2022. Gatwick gave a deadline of the first three months of 2025.
Consumer group Which? warned it would lead to delays as customers would expect hand luggage rules to have changed only to find out that was not the case.
Air passengers have faced longer queues for security checks and strict limits on the quantity of liquids they can carry in their hand luggage since the authorities foiled a UK terror cell’s plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid bombs in 2006.
The ‘Next Generation Security Checkpoints’ – intended to slash waiting times by allowing passengers to leave laptops and liquids in their carry-on baggage – are only in one UK airport
Part of one of the ‘very heavy’ scanners being moved into place at Heathrow Airport
The new scanners, which create a 3D image of the contents of bags, allow airports to ditch the 100ml liquid limit and the requirement that travellers put them in a clear plastic bag.
Passengers will be able to take two litres of liquid inside their bags and will not have to remove laptops.
The new scanners are already used in countries including the US and Australia.
Trials began in the UK in 2018 and some airports, including London City and Teesside, have already rolled out the technology.
But Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester are expected to need more time to install the new equipment across all lanes, meaning some will still use the old scanners this summer.
Aviation commentator Sally Gethin told the BBC: ‘[The scanners] are very heavy. Sometimes the floors in the actual terminal have to be reinforced.’
Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, said: ‘We’re now going to go into a situation where different [UK] airports have different rules, so at some places you will need to get the liquids out in advance, at others you won’t.’
Travel expert Nicky Kelvin tested out London City Airport’s ‘fancy’ new scanners in May
Warning this could cause confusion at security, he added: ‘You only need a couple of passengers to not be prepared to end up having to wait an extra 10, 20, 30 minutes.
‘It is disappointing that we’re in a situation just months ahead of the peak travel period… and major airports aren’t ready.’
A spokesman for MAG, which operates Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, said: ‘We continue to make good progress at all three of our airports on the introduction of new security screening equipment, as part of the UK-wide programme.
‘This will see the new scanners in place on a large number of our security lanes by June 2024, with the full completion of the programme expected the following year.’
Gatwick said: ‘London Gatwick will have made significant progress installing state of the art next generation security scanners by June 2024 in both terminals.
‘We currently plan to have completed the major logistical operation required to install the remaining scanners in Q1 2025, after the busy summer peak period has concluded.’
Passengers queue for check in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1
The machines will reduce hassle for passengers, speed up security and reduce waste by ending the need for mini toiletries