Share story

The European Union will begin lifting restrictions on liquids, aerosols and gels at airports in its 28 member countries in phases, beginning next month, with the goal of eliminating the ban by January 2016. “What is happening in January is a small first step,” Dale Kidd, press officer for Transport at the European Commission in Brussels, said in a telephone interview.

The initial change will affect only passengers transferring at EU airports. After Jan. 31, passengers can transfer with liquids, including duty-free bottles, purchased at airports or on aircraft outside the union. The liquids will be allowed on aircraft if they are sealed in special duty-free bags and subject to screening using new liquid explosive detection equipment.

“Currently, the bottles are seized, even if they are in duty-free bags,” Kidd said. If the first phase proves effective, detection machines will be used to screen all liquids, ultimately replacing restrictions completely. “But nothing is changing for small containers,” he said. Passengers will continue to be able to bring small (up to 100 milliliters, or 3.4 ounces) containers in a 1-liter resealable plastic bag, and any liquids needed during the trip for medical or special dietary requirements, like baby food.

The Association for Airline Passenger Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said it would like the United States to follow the EU’s actions. The current policy “makes us feel safer, but it is not actually doing anything to make us safer,” said Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the association. “Ending the ban would allow the agency to focus on more pressing potential security threats.”

Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst for the consulting firm Hudson Crossing, said the U.S. government was taking a cautious approach for now and might wait until changes in Europe and possibly elsewhere have been implemented before responding.

“I think in this case the TSA is happy to be the laggard rather than the early adopter,” he said. “But there is a need for balance between security and common sense.” People will stop flying if it becomes too difficult, which will harm the economy, Harteveldt said. “But unfortunately, there are people out there who can do harm,” he said.

Ross Feinstein, press secretary for the TSA, said in a statement: “Developing technologies, in cooperation with our EU and international partners, that would ultimately allow the relaxation of limitations on liquids, aerosols and gels in carry-on bags remains a long-term goal.”