March 1, 2024

E.U. Decides to Leave Restrictions on Liquids in Place

PARIS — In the face of mounting resistance from governments, airports and airlines, the European Union backed down from a Friday deadline for member states to partly lift nearly five-year-old restrictions on liquids in air passenger hand luggage, saying it wanted to avoid potential confusion and disruption for passengers.

Under the expected rule change, passengers transiting through an E.U. airport from outside the Union would have been allowed to carry liquids, aerosols and gels purchased either at an airport duty-free shop or aboard a non-E.U. airline, provided they were sealed in tamperproof bags and screened before boarding by specialized scanners. The move was planned as a first step toward eliminating all cabin restrictions on such goods on European flights from 2013.

But in recent weeks, several member states representing a significant share of the region’s air traffic — including Britain, France and Italy — had informed Siim Kallas, the E.U. transport commissioner, that they would not ease the restrictions, citing security concerns.

As of Friday morning, when the change was due to take effect, the situation remained as before. According to aviation industry and government officials, as many as half of the bloc’s 27 member states had indicated they would maintain the restrictions.

“It is clear that a situation at European airports which leads to confusion for air passengers as to whether they can travel with ‘duty-free liquids,’ in particular for connecting flights to the United States, should be avoided,” Mr. Kallas said in a statement. “Therefore, the restrictions on carrying ‘duty-free’ liquids purchased outside the E.U. through European airports should remain in place until passengers can travel with certainty.”

The restrictions — which allow liquids only in amounts below 100 milliliters, or about 3 ounces — were introduced after the British authorities uncovered a plot in August 2006 to bomb U.S.-bound passenger planes using liquid explosives.

Three British citizens were convicted in 2009 of planning to blow up at least seven trans-Atlantic airliners on a single day with explosives smuggled aboard in soft-drink bottles and detonated by devices powered with AA batteries.

Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines, welcomed the delay, calling it the “least worst” solution under the circumstances. He also noted a lack of clarity on how the United States would have treated liquids that had been screened at E.U. airports under the change.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said U.S. and E.U. officials were scheduled to meet next week to discuss the issues created by relaxing existing restrictions in Europe. Dale Kidd, a European Commission spokesman, said those talks were part of an ongoing dialogue “to ensure passengers on trans-Atlantic flights face compatible rules.”

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