What to Expect at UK Airports

A Complete Guide to UK Airport Security Procedures

In this article, we delve into UK Airport security procedures. We include tips on how and when to pass security checks as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Airport Security Guard

1. What to expect at UK Airport Security

Airport security checks are essential in making-sure passengers do not take dangerous or prohibited items on board the aircraft. You enter the security check area after you have checked in for your flight, have been issued with a valid boarding card and you have dropped off your hold baggage at the airports bag drop desk.

Every passenger has to clear airport security before entering the secure or sterile areas of the airport. These areas include the departure hall, airport lounge and boarding gate. For most European airports, the entrance to the security check area is near the flight check-in and bag drop desks in the main terminal building.

At the security checkpoint, you will be asked to prepare and pass your hand luggage through an x-ray machine (to check for dangerous goods). You will be asked to walk through a security gate or archway, and you may be 'screened' using security (body) scanning equipment; you may also be 'frisked' - these checks are to protect everyone.

Top Tips: Below are a few tips to help you pass through the security check as quickly as possible:

  • Have your boarding pass ready for inspection. When using a digital copy of your boarding pass, check you have offline access to it.
  • Your baggabe and personal belongings are placed on the conveyor belt for screening - before proceeding through the passenger security detection gate or archway.

2. What items are taken out of hand luggage at airport security?

You will be asked to prepare your hand luggage for the x-ray machine. Below are further tips to help you through security as quickly as possible:

  • At the x-ray conveyor belt, remove all large electrical items (laptops, iPads, e-readers, etc.) from your hand luggage. They will need to be x-rayed individually with your bag. Place your electrical items flat in the separate trays provided, do not put any items 'on top of' each other.
  • Remove all liquid containers and place them in a tray to be x-rayed. Liquids are limited to 100ml and must be in a clear plastic bag - (see liquid restrictions section below).
  • If you have a belt remove it and empty your pockets (e.g. keys, loose change) and place them in your hand luggage, ready to be scanned.
  • Remove coats, jackets and shoes with heels, then place them in a tray ready for scanning.

3. Restrictions on liquids in hand luggage

There are restrictions at most UK airports that limit the number of liquids you can take in your hand luggage; however, these restrictions are about to change. A small number of UK airports are scrapping the 100ml liquid rule after introducing new high-tech CT scanners. This new technology will mean passengers will not need to remove liquids, tablets, laptops and other electronic items from their hand luggage for security checks. This new 3D image scanning technology is expected to be installed in most major UK international airports within the next few years.

Until airports have installed new 3D CT scanner technology, the following liquid restrictions will apply: For hand luggage, all liquids, including drinks, water, gels, oils, creams, sprays, lotions, perfumes, hand sanitiser and foods, must be contained or placed in containers of no more than 100ml. Top Tip: If possible, pack liquids (shampoo, lotions) in your hold baggage (luggage that you check in).

Containers are to be placed in one transparent, re-sealable plastic bag measuring approximately 20cm x 20cm and be ready for the x-ray machine. Liquids in containers larger than 100ml generally cannot go through security even if the container is only partly-full.

The restrictions around carrying Liquids can change and may vary from country to country; some jurisdictions may have different procedures to the above. Check the latest airport passenger security procedures with your airline or direct with the airport before travelling.

Please note! Countries outside the EU might have different rules on carrying liquids as a transit or transfer passenger. You should check these rules with the relevant airlines and airports before travelling.

There are some exemptions to the above liquid restrictions, these include:

  • If used for essential medical purposes.
  • If used for special dietary requirements.
  • If used for baby food or baby milk.

4. The definition of Hand Luggage for flights

Hand luggage, cabin baggage and carry-on baggage are terms used to identify your bag and its contents. You carry your hand luggage through security and onto the aircraft, hand luggage is kept with you for the entire journey.

Generally, you are only allowed one piece of hand luggage; as a rough guide, the maximum size must not exceed 56cm x 45cm x 25cm (please note: some airlines have different size restrictions for cabin baggage. Check the exact bag size allowed for your flight and ticket type directly with your airline). Most airlines also allow passengers to carry one handbag, but check with your airline to make sure.

5. Items not allowed in Hand Baggage and at Airport Security

There are strict rules regarding the carriage of dangerous items through airport security; airport staff will not let anything through that they consider dangerous. Remember, you can only carry small amounts of liquids (as described above).

Your hand luggage must not contain any prohibited items. Prohibited items include:

  • Items that could be used as a potential weapon.
  • Knives (with a sharp or pointed blade and/or blade longer than 6cm).
  • Razor blades.
  • Toy and replica guns (metal or plastic).
  • Flammable liquids and solids.
  • Incapacitating sprays, Acids & Poisons.
  • Fireworks, flares and other pyrotechnics, including party poppers and toy caps.
  • Cigarette lighters (except for one lighter if kept on your person).
  • Hypodermic syringes (unless for medical reasons).
  • Sports bats, clubs or cues.

6. Can you take phone chargers and spare batteries in hand luggage?

You can take phone charges and spare batteries with you, but only in your carry-on baggage; however, no more than two fuel cell cartridges may be carried by one passenger.

Portable charges (power packs) are 'not usually allowed' in the aircraft hold, so carry them on your person or in your hand luggage.

Spare batteries for electronic smoking devices are only permitted in your carry-on baggage, not in the hold. This includes 'spare' batteries for e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers and electronic nicotine delivery systems. To prevent shorting - spare batteries must be individually protected by placing them in their original retail packaging.

Please note! Restrictions on travelling with electronic devices can change at short notice; some airlines may have different restrictions to the ones mentioned above. Important: If you're unsure about what you can take as hand luggage - or as hold luggage, check with your airline for advice before packing your bags.

7. What happens after Airport Security Check?

Once you've cleared security and repacked your belongings - make your way to the departure hall. Here you can relax and enjoy the airport's facilities, including lounges, numerous shops and duty-free shopping, or head to one of many cafes, restaurants or bars for a pre-flight drink.

Remember, most airports do not announce flight departures over the public address system. Always check the flight information screens for the latest flight departure time and boarding gate number.

Flight departure screens are positioned throughout the 'departure lounge' and gate areas. Remember, it is your responsibility to get to the gate on time.

Due to lengthy security checks, you may experience long wait times at some airports, especially during the busy holiday season. So always prepare to arrive early for airport check-in and security, especially during peak travel times.

Airport Walkway

Author: Chris R. Wilson.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents of this article. The use of this site and third-party links is subject to our T&Cs.