The Reasons Behind Hand Luggage Restrictions and Security Rules

Going through airport security is an important step in travelling internationally, and one that can be long and frustrating. Indeed, there are many items that one isn’t allowed to take aboard as hand luggage, and there are also many rules to follow when passing security. But these rules are there for a reason and are important in order to make sure that terrorist attacks such as 9/11 or the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot never happen again. So if you ever wondered why certain rules are in place, this article is here to explain the reasons behind common airport security rules.

A man waits for his plane
Travelling with hand luggage | © JEShoots via Unsplash

Reasons behind hand luggage restrictions

Firstly, there are restrictions on the size of the luggage you are allowed to take in the cabin. Hand luggage limits are normally by dimensions rather than weight, although some airlines also have a weight limit. These limits are there to make sure that the plane doesn’t exceed its maximum takeoff weight and to make sure that bags can be stored in overhead baggage bins so that they don’t obstruct the way in case of an evacuation.

Many items are not allowed as hand luggage. This includes firearms and ammunition, blowtorches and inflammable objects such as ethanol, as well as any sharp or blunt items, be it working tools, sports equipment or other items. The reason for this is self-explanatory: anything that can be used as a weapon or can otherwise present a danger to passengers isn’t allowed inside the cabin.

Finally, one of the most infamous restrictions for hand luggage is that you are not allowed to take more than 100 ml of liquid, and these liquids must be put in a small zippable plastic bag presented separately at security. This seemingly arbitrary restriction has left many first-time travellers perplexed.

It finds its origin in the transatlantic aircraft plot of 2006, in which terrorists attempted to blow up several planes flying from the United Kingdom to the United States using liquid explosives disguised as soft drinks carried in their hand luggage. The UK and US initially banned passengers from carrying any liquids as hand luggage as a result, before relaxing the restriction to only allow 100 ml per person. These restrictions were then adopted worldwide and remain in place to this day to prevent similar incidents.

Security / check-in lines at Gatwick Airport
In May, travellers reported long queues for check-in and security at London Gatwick Airport. | © PA

Airport security: what must you take off, and why?

Besides restrictions on what is allowed inside the cabin, there is also a strict security process that every passenger must go through before they can enter the terminals and board the plane. This process can be slow and annoying, but it is necessary in order to ensure that no dangerous items are brought aboard the plane. Airport security used to be less strict, but after 9/11, full-body scans and screening luggage for explosives have now become the norm worldwide.

Each passenger must go through a metal detector to make sure that they are not carrying any dangerous items hidden in their clothes, such as guns or sharp objects. This also means that you must take off any metallic objects such as belts, watches or anything in your pockets when going through the detector, as they would set it off, which can slow down the queue or get you in trouble.

Most airports also ask you to take your shoes off before you go through the detector. This is because some shoes have metallic elements that can set off the detector, such as metallic shoelace tips, but also because some detectors can be unreliable in detecting metals in the lower part of the body, making it easy to hide items in one’s shoes.

The security hall at East Midlands Airport (EMA), UK.
Security hall at EMA | © Derbyshire Live

What must you remove from your bag, and why?

In the meantime, your bag goes through an X-ray machine in order to detect any potential weapons or explosives in it. However, some things must be taken out of the bag and scanned separately. This includes the plastic bag of liquids mentioned earlier, large electronic devices such as laptops or tablets, as well as certain foods. This is because these items are too dense, which can obstruct the X-rays and hide what is behind them.

Additionally, you must also make sure that your electronic devices are charged, as airport security will sometimes ask you to turn them on, and can confiscate them if they don’t work. The reason for this is to make sure that the devices are not makeshift bombs, since a device turned into a bomb will most likely not work properly.

However, some of these rules are starting to be phased out in some airports due to improved technology. This includes the use of backscatter X-ray scanners, which can detect metals on passengers without having to remove their shoes, or computed tomography scanners in use in a few American airports, which create 3-D images of luggage, allowing bags to pass through without removing laptops from them. So these two rules might not be a thing anymore in a few years.

These are the reasons behind the rules related to hand luggage and airport security. Did you know all this? Let us know down below!

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Samuel Gachon
Samuel Gachon
Samuel Gachon is an aspiring writer and journalist from Brisbane, Australia. He holds a Bachelor's degree in creative writing with a minor in entertainment at Queensland University of Technology. Aside from his work at Travel Radar, Samuel works as a freelance writer for Collider, and has previously written for other publications such as Indulge and other Queensland Magazines titles, and the website Embrace Brisbane. His short stories and poetry have been published in the online flash fiction publications AntipodeanSF, and the student-run magazine ScratchThat.


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