If you live in a cave with no TV or newspapers, you might
have missed the news of a major security alert in the UK
during August. Flights to the USA are the main concern,
especially flights by US airlines. But flights from other
countries to the USA via Britain are also getting attention.
Passenger safety is obviously the number one concern, and
the authorities have come down heavy on security on all
flights within the UK as well as international journeys. It
may make life more difficult for travellers for a while, but
that seems a small price to pay for safety. The alternative
seems to be to stop using air travel altogether, and not
many people want that!
So how will these new travel safety measures affect you? If
you’re travelling from or through British airports any time
soon, you need to know what the current rules are, so that
you can plan ahead to deal with them. And first and foremost
is the need to allow extra time to check in and get through
security screening, because the new precautions mean that
it’s taking longer to get to the boarding gate.
The major change affects cabin bags. Whatever class of seat
you are in, you are allowed to take only one item of hand
luggage. And whereas before, small items such as a woman’s
handbag or purse (actually sometimes rather large!) could be
taken on in addition to the regular allowance, now
everything must fit into the one bag. It’s not a very large
bag, either – maximum size is 17.7 inches high (45 cm) by
13.7 inches (35 cm) by 6.2 inches (16 cm) deep. But though
that’s not very big, it IS large enough for most laptops.
And that’s the really good news: for a week at the start of
the scare, all electronic items were banned, and since these
are fragile and unsuitable for being checked into the cargo
hold, many people just couldn’t travel.
The new safety measures also affect what you can take
through security screening. You CAN now take electronic
items including your laptop, camera and portable phone, and
your keys. You can’t take any sharp objects – not even a
tapestry needle or pins, no matches, lighters, razor blades
live ammunition, nor any of the other dangerous items that
haven’t been allowed since 9/11. But now there are
restrictions on liquids and gels, too.
Essentially, you can’t take ANY liquids or gels: toothpaste,
shampoo, toiletries of any kind including any aerosols such
as shaving foam, suntan lotion, cosmetics Are all banned in
the plane cabin, as are all drinks. I can hear all the
parents reading this thinking that will make life impossible
for them to take babies on flights. Fortunately, there is an
exception for baby milk and liquid baby foods, but the
person carrying must taste it when asked to by airport
staff. The other exceptions is for prescription medicine in
liquid form, provided the container is not bigger than 50ml
(about 1.75 fluid oz), and the medicine has been verified by
a pharmacist in the airport terminal.
So long as you can cope with these restrictions, the
security screening process hasn’t changed much. Electronic
items must be removed and put in the trays without
overlapping; coats and jackets have to go in trays as well.
Of course, you need to have baby milk and approved
prescription liquids handy for checking. In the UK, you
don’t need to take your shoes off unless you’re asked to.
Once you’re through security, you can use the shops airside
as usual – but what you’re allowed to buy depends on your
destination. On flights to the USA, you can’t take liquids
or gels on the plane at all. So you may not buy forbidden
items such as shampoo and take them with you on the flight.
And because of the need to be sure this rule is kept, you
are likely to be screened again before boarding the plane.
For all other destinations, you can buy and take on board
anything sold in the shops between security screening and
the departure gates.
Once the first few days of real disruption were over, delays
became less serious and less lengthy. But the increased
security measures are bound to make it take longer from the
time you enter the airport to the time you board your
flight. Most airlines haven’t given any specific guidance
about this, but it would be wise to allow at least an extra
half-hour for the check-in and security screening process.