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Why UK airports will miss scanner deadline, and what it means for your holiday

Plans to revamp security scanners across the UK have hit delays – which could cause problems for holidaymakers at the borders this summer.

Despite a looming summer deadline to overhaul the UK’s airport security system, several major hubs are set to miss that deadline, i reported in December.

What is changing?

In 2006, the Government tightened the rules on taking liquids in hand luggage following concerns over terror threats.

Since then, passengers have only been allowed to take liquids of up to 100ml on board, packed in clear plastic bags, as a security measure.

But the Department for Transport announced plans to replace the airport security scanners with new CT scanners back in 2019.

CT scanners use X-ray technology to create a 3D image of what is inside passengers’ bags, and also use special algorithms to detect threats.

Passengers will then be able to take up to two litres of liquids when travelling, and will not need to remove liquids, laptops or tablets from their bags at security.

Initially, airports had until 1 December, 2022 to make the change, but the government pushed that back to 1 June, 2024. Multiple airports are now set to miss that deadline as well.

Which airports are at risk?

Some airports in the UK have successfully implemented the change.

Last January, Teesside Airport announced that it had introduced the new scanners and was “100 per cent operationally ready for the new era of airport security rules”.

London City Airport met the target in April 2023, which will allow it to process 30 per cent more passengers per hour and “improv[e] the travel experience”.

But Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester Airport are now expected to miss the deadline. Sources told The Times Heathrow faces the most significant challenge in meeting the deadline as it has 146 security lanes in total.

They said the key complication will be “fitting the new scanners and retraining staff without impacting the flow of passengers”.

Gatwick expects to complete the programme of works by early 2025, with Heathrow saying it would deliver the programme as “quickly as practically possible”. Manchester and Stansted airports are meanwhile making “good progress” in delivering the new gates.

How could it affect your holiday?

If airports do not replace its scanners by the beginning of June, passengers will still need to keep to the 100ml liquid limits at those specific hubs.

That would leave airports with a variety of rules, which could create chaos and cause delays for holidaymakers.

Customers at some airports will need to bag their liquids, while others will not, and some will need to take their liquids out of their bag at security.

At peak travel time in the summer, that could cause long waits at the security gates.

That comes after holidaymakers faced huge chaos last summer, when passport e-gates crashed at airports including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.

Border Force staff had to manually process thousands more passengers than usual during the busy holiday season.

Between 60 and 80 per cent of all travellers typically use those gates, according to the Immigration Services Union.

Experts have since warned that investment in “robust digital technology” is needed to avoid more disruption during peak holiday season.

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