Birmingham Airport boss speaks out on queue chaos after 'painful' liquids rule change

-Credit: (Image: Birmingham Live)
-Credit: (Image: Birmingham Live)


Birmingham Airport's chief executive said the last-minute government changes to liquid rules for carry-on hand luggage had been "painful." Nick Barton said the brakes had been slammed on the unveiling the airport's 'next-generation' security hall by a government announcement on liquids.

Mr Barton spent two hours with BirminghamLive on Tuesday morning, June 11, walking around the terminal and explaining just why there have been scenes of queue chaos.

The under-fire airport boss explained their ribbon cutting 'ta-da' moment crumbled on Friday when a new UK Government directive landed on their desk to insist passengers only carry liquids, pastes and gels up to 100ml in their hand luggage.

READ MORE: Birmingham Airport queues explained as travellers stopped with 'non-compliant bags'

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BHX had anticipated that by June 1, the 2 litre rule would come into play, easing nearly 20-year restrictions on liquid and bringing into play the airports new state-of-the-art kit. But government transport chiefs announced they needed to re-validate all the software on every machine (including at other UK airports such as London City, which had already rolled out the 2 litre allowance).

While the machines are having extra checks, passengers now have to stick to 100ml. But a perfect storm of people expecting to bring 2 litres in by June and those who still mistakenly bring through more than 100ml, is causing major issues at security. At the same time, building works are still being finished at the terminal, restricting indoor space for the snaking queues.

Birmingham Airport No liquids over 100ml sign. While waiting for a software issue to be resolved with the new scanners (that can scan up to two litres of liquid), passengers arriving at the airport are being reminded to continue to limit liquids in their hand luggage to 100ml. This will then reduce the need for such long queues for security as have been recently seen. -Credit:Birmingham Live

The airport has come in for sharp criticism from holidaymakers over their communication, or lack thereof, with early morning customers in particularly describing long queues and having to wait outside.

"In June we were told that the machines would need a software upgrade. As a result of this software upgrade, we are running [the machines] in a very slow manner. The throughput rates are much slower," explained Mr Barton.

When asked if they can return to the old scanners and systems until the government checks have been completed, Mr Barton replied: "Staff have been trained to a very new system so they cannot go back because the risk is too enormous. Staff were sent down to Milton Keynes to train."

Large numbers of holidaymakers, some optimistically dressed in sun hats and shorts, queued for reported times of around 2.5 hours early this morning, June 10, to reach Birmingham Airport's security gates. Pictured: the queue on Monday morning at 6:40am -Credit:@smoon_lee
Large numbers of holidaymakers, some optimistically dressed in sun hats and shorts, queued for reported times of around 2.5 hours early this morning, June 10, to reach Birmingham Airport's security gates. Pictured: the queue on Monday morning at 6:40am -Credit:@smoon_lee

He explained how looped in BHX has been in to government changes: "By the May 16 we were still expecting the 2 litre rule to come into place. By June 1 [there was] no word.

"We were in constant contact with the Department for Transport we are one hundred percent behind the government on this." However he did acknowledge the sudden directive has caused "immense problems."

"They are wonderful machines we just can't use them to their design standard yet. It's not allowed to function as it should, it is a temporary measure.

"The primary change is that the old rules of 100 ml [remain] and not to remove electricals and liquids because the new machinery is so good it can stay in the bag."

He added there have been other teething problems: "The boarding pass gates took weeks to get working.

"This is the most complex thing we have ever done in the airport's history." Mr Barton acknowledged that liquids rule change has been "painful" for customers who are dealing with the confusion.

Gv of security and departures at Birmingham Airport on June 11 -Credit:Birmingham Live
Gv of security and departures at Birmingham Airport on June 11 -Credit:Birmingham Live

With the directive being 'temporary', the airport boss told us he does not know when the 2 litre rule will now come into force. As a result of that, the airport has scrambled to make provisions for the summer rush, including recruiting 100 liquid consultants by this Friday June 14, and rolling out inspection stations outside the terminal for the summer holidays.

He added that some particularly worried holidaymakers turned up seven and nine hours early last week. "Passengers getting here four hours early doesn't help anyone.

"They turn up early and change the demand profile." The airport has refuted the claim that there have been 2.5 hour waits, saying instead that their maximum queue time was 70 minutes.

When the new scanners are able to operate at full capacity and the 2 litre rule in place, Mr Barton confirmed customers will be through security in 25 minutes.

But there is a long way to go: "We definitely want to improve from where we are and we will."