Liquids ban to be lifted at European airports; is the U.S. next?

Liquids ban to be lifted at European airports; is the U.S. next?
London's Heathrow Airport began installing a liquid-scanning device for use starting in January. (Bettelle)

Are you tired of having airport security screeners toss away your bottles of water, shampoo or lotion? Change is on the way in some parts of the world.

Ohio research and development company Battelle has built a screening device that London's Heathrow Airport began installing last week to test liquids carried by passengers onto planes. Heathrow Airport screeners are to use the device starting in January, when the European Union will begin to allow some liquids, aerosols and gels onto planes under a phased timetable.


In the U.S., Transportation Security Administration officials are looking into several technologies for liquid screening. Battelle officials say their liquid scanner, the LS10, is among those devices.

But the TSA says you shouldn't expect to carry your favorite bottle of soda or shampoo onboard at U.S. airports in the near future.

"Liquid explosives are a serious threat, and we aren't ready to move away from the ban on liquids," the TSA said in a statement.

The Battelle screening device uses this technology to test containers of liquid for potential explosives: A radio frequency wave and an ultrasonic pulse are passed through the liquids so the device can assess the contents by analyzing the signals after they pass through.

The LS10 device looks like a slot machine. An airport screener places a bottle of liquid into an opening in the machine and then pulls down a large black lever, which starts the testing mechanism. The device can be used with see-through or opaque bottles, metal cans or ceramic containers.

The test takes two to five seconds per container.

To start, Heathrow will let passengers carry onboard duty-free liquids brought in the airport and medicine. It plans to ease its policy to allow other liquids within a year or so.

In Europe and in the U.S., passengers are not allowed to bring containers with more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) of liquid in carry-on bags onto a commercial plane.

The scientists at Battelle said scanning liquids with the LS10 won't make them unsafe to use.

"There is no danger of altering the liquid in any way," said Wesley Pirkle, senior research scientist at Battelle.