With the Easter holiday break around the corner, European airlines and airports are urging passengers to arrive on time and have their carry-on bags ready for security checks. This will be of particular relevance in the UK, where security guards at Heathrow airport have gone on strike for 10 days starting March 31st.
The Unite union said that more than 1,400 security guards at Heathrow airport, one of the busiest in Europe, are participating in the industrial action. The general secretary of this organization, Sharon Graham, denounced that the workers of the aforementioned airport are paid “a pittance”, while the executive director and top managers enjoy enormous salaries and inflation is the highest in the last 40 years, she added.
A security guard’s yearly salary £24,000 (€27,400) a year, according to the union. Workers have been offered a 10 percent wage increase, but the offer has been rejected. According to Euronews, the union has stated that with a current Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation at 13.4 per cent, accepting the proposal would effectively mean a pay cut. Heathrow’s management has meanwhile affirmed that contingency plans are in place to keep the airport open and operational. A spokesman said that, “Threatening to ruin people’s vacations with a strike will not improve the deal.”
New technology could improve the speed at which security checks are performed, alleviating the undesirable side effects of staff shortages. More and more airports around the world are deploying next generation scanners that allow passengers to leave liquids and electronics in their hand luggage during security checks. Spanish airports will also remove the liquid restriction from 2024, airport operator Aena announced in February of this year.
Barcelona El-Prat and Madrid Barajas will be the first ones to be equipped with the 3D X-ray scanners, as of 2024. Other Aena airports will follow, with Malaga Costa del Sol in 2025 and then Gran Canaria, Tenerife Sur, Fuerteventura, Cesar Manrique Lanzarote, Alicante-Elche Miguel Hernandez, Ibiza, Bilbao, Menorca and Valencia from 2026.
The restrictions were put in place in 2006, when British authorities were informed of an upcoming terrorist threat, according to which passengers were planning on carrying self-made bombs in drink bottles. Since then, airport security rules state that all liquids, perfumes, creams, aerosols, foams, gels, shampoo and toothpaste must be packed in individual containers not exceeding 100 ml. These must be carried in a transparent, resealable plastic bag that has to be taken out of the hand luggage, along with all electronic devices.
This is now changing thanks to Computer Tomograph (CT) scanners, similar with the ones used for medical procedures, allow for a more accurate detection of dangerous items, like weapons and explosives, by creating very detailed 3D images of a bag’s contents, which security officers can then view and rotate to better analyze the contents, and using complex algorithms that can automatically detect weapons, explosives and other prohibited items. Due to the high accuracy of the apparatus, they can even detect explosives in liquids, which is why travelers would be allowed to leave them in their bags when going through security.
Palma de Mallorca Airport previously announced a €559 million investment in this technology, planning to remove the liquid restrictions by the end of 2024. The smart scanners have also been in testing at London’s Heathrow Airport since 2019, with the UK government recently announcing a plan to introduce them at all of the country’s airports by 2024. In the United States, the Transport Security Administration invested $781.2 million in 1,000 scanners, deployed across the country in the summer of 2022.