European Parliament Moves to Undo Airplane Liquid Ban

The Norwegian Ministry of Transportation asked the EU to lift the liquid ban on airplanes.

This ban is annoying for the travellers and a large cost for society, and we need to examine if the benefits are in relation to the cost.

And the European Parliament agreed:

The House adopted a resolution with 464 votes in favour, 158 against and 70 abstentions on the restrictions imposed by the EU on liquids that passengers can take on board aeroplanes. MEPs call upon the Commission to review urgently and—if no further conclusive facts are brought forward—to repeal Regulation (EC) No 1546/2006 (introduction of liquids onto aircraft). The particular amendment on the possible repeal was adopted with 382 votes in favour, 298 against and 15 abstentions.

Security is a trade-off; makes sense to me.

EDITED TO ADD (10/11): Unfortunately the European Parliament is powerless; their decisions are regularly ignored. In this case, the European Commission has the real power.

Posted on September 18, 2007 at 6:32 AM34 Comments


Roy September 18, 2007 6:56 AM

It would make more sense to first conduct a sanity check on a ban before putting it into place. Taking any idea and running with it uncritically is irresponsible, and letting an organization operate like that is an outrage.

They could get a lot of free and useful help by publishing their proposals on the Internet and allowing anonymous postings in response. Sift through the chaff and see how the proposal holds up. Let the people kick the tires and look under the hood before using tax money to buy the car.

Emergency plans should also be published in advance as proposals and be open to criticism before put into practice.

Anders September 18, 2007 7:23 AM

Also, and even more importantly the parliament repealed the secrecy of the current ban (at least that is what I hope this text means)

“The House also calls upon the Commission to act, as provided for by Article 232 of the EC Treaty, by publishing and making available to citizens the verbatim text of the prohibitions and restrictions which can be applied to them, as well as the list of exceptions to the same and the reasons for the measure.”


SteveJ September 18, 2007 7:45 AM

I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I think that these votes are not binding on the European Commission. Could be wrong.

So, while it’s encouraging that the Parliament is sensible, that is no guarantee of sensible policy from the Commission (for for that matter from the Council of Ministers or from the executives or legislatures of member states).

Alex September 18, 2007 7:54 AM

Please note that the EP voted on a Resolution only. Formally they do not have any power in this regard. The European Commission now has to actually change its Regulation on this matter before something really happens.

Steve Wildstrom September 18, 2007 8:07 AM

TSA in the U.S. seems to have quietly changed the rules. The still say you have to put your baggie of liquids and gels out in a bin, but they no longer seem to be enforcing it. I realizedthat I had forgotten to take the bag out on a couple of recent flights and no one noticed. On two flights in the last couple of days, I left it in deliberately and still no one noticed, so I have had this experience at at least four different U.S. airports. Now I have to decide whether to just put the stuff back in my toilet bag where it belongs. Of course, it’s really bad policy to change the rules like this without telling anyone.

Jan September 18, 2007 8:08 AM

AFAIK this was already stopped by the european commision, because according to them, the ban makes sense and removing it would be irresponsible.,1518,504092,00.html – dated 2007-09-05 – says:
EU Commision wants to stick to limitations

The EU Commision wants to keep the existing limitations for carry-on luggage on board of airplanes.

Traffic commissioner Jacques Barrot rejected an attempt made by the EU parliament – the terroristic threat in Europe is too serious.

[…] “Ending the measures is a risk I do not want to take”, Barrot said.

Luis Villa September 18, 2007 9:07 AM

Steve: that’s not a policy change, that’s just incompetence. I traveled most of the summer with liquids in my bag (unintentionally; it was an old bag that I hadn’t used in a while, and I’d forgotten that some saline and lipbalm were in it), and after 7 or 8 trips they finally noticed and made me take them out.

Liquids: important enough to have rules about them, but not important enough to competently ban.

José Esteves September 18, 2007 9:16 AM

Our fearless commissioners, backed by our “understanding and readiness” (comply or don’t fly?) will go on protecting Europe from Terror and Reason:

“The European Commission has rejected a call by the European Parliament
to review restrictions on taking liquids on board aeroplanes.
“The understanding and the readiness with which the vast majority of our
citizens have accepted this measure and the inconvenience it brings are
the best proof that they consider it to be adequate and necessary,” EU
Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said.

He added “Europe must not show any sign of weakness” in the face of
terrorist threats.

George September 18, 2007 10:12 AM

It’s at least heartening that someone with a modicum of Authority has had the courage to question the value of what anyone with half a brain (paging Kip Hawley…) can immediately recognize as a dubious burden.

Unfortunately, the TSA’s most likely reaction will be to start enforcing the ban with extra rigor (and with extra arbitrariness) just to let us know that it’s never appropriate to question anything promulgated in the name of “security.”

derf September 18, 2007 10:13 AM

So to paraphrase this: It would take an act of Congress to establish any form of sanity at the TSA or DHS.

God help us all.

Olly September 18, 2007 10:20 AM

“The understanding and the readiness with which the vast majority of our
citizens have accepted this measure and the inconvenience it brings are
the best proof that they consider it to be adequate and necessary,” EU
Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said.

You mean we had a choice?

Norm September 18, 2007 11:21 AM

The problem is flammable liquids not liquid explosives

Why do people keep bringing up the straw man of liquid explosives??? If a terrorist spread 12oz of (name your favorite accelerant) around and ignited it, the plane would be in deep trouble.

Joe Buck September 18, 2007 11:23 AM

Unfortunately the European Parliament is a weak body; their decisions are regularly ignored by those who really run the show in Europe. In this case, the European Commission has the real power.

Steve Wildstrom September 18, 2007 1:10 PM

12 oz. of accelerant burning in an airplane cabin would be very nasty and would certainly do some damage but it wouldn’t be catastrophic. FAA/ICAO/IATA flammability rules for aircraft interiors are extremely stringent to give passengers half a chance to escape in the event of a fire on the gound. The regs require that all materials must not sustain combustion if an external source of flame is removed. So upholstery will char or melt, but will not continue to burn once the accelerant is gone. That’s why Li ion batteries on planes are a problem but not a deadly threat. You mainly have to worry about the passengers’ clothes or effects catching on fire.

alfora September 18, 2007 1:15 PM

@Norm: Please note that you can legally buy flammable liquids in nearly any duty free shop at the airport. The bags will be sealed and should stay sealed until you at least board the plane or reach your destination airport.

You simply don’t have to smuggle anything flammable through the security checkpoints. Simply buy anything you want at the airport. Take some tissue paper and use alcohol from perfumes or whiskey or whatever and you should have a nice accelerant.

Also note that you are not limited to those lousy 100 ml in the EU. You can bring 10 litre Schnaps (>22 vol% alcohol) from one EU country to another. Per person! Should be enough, shouldn’t it? 😉

Anonymous September 18, 2007 2:44 PM

@Norm and other security state stooges:

Aircraft carry ABC class fire extinguishers and can depressurize for in-extremis fire suppression. A few liters of accelerant won’t cause a catastrophe.

miw September 19, 2007 2:15 AM

Ever thought about who is profiting from the security theatre? Governments benefit from the CYA effect. The main issue is that airport operators actually make loads of profits from operating a generally senseless security operation. As it has no real impact on aviation security, the idea is to maximise the theatre element, but use the cheapest labour and equipment one can get to maximise profits. Aiports make more money from security than from their core business of access point for airtraffic.

Norm September 19, 2007 2:21 AM

Before 9/11 people used to say “there’s no need to protect cockpit door, hijackers just want to take over planes.”

Terrorists want to create terror and they don’t care if they die in the process. I have not really tried to figure out where exactly on an airliner I would light a fire if I wanted to bring a plane down, but I am suspicious that if I looked I could find a place that would create grievous damage. I could be wrong, perhaps this has been thought through and protected against. But to simply say that it is not possible and that its stupid to even think that liquids could be dangerous shows a complete lack of imagination.

Fire generates smoke and toxic gases and consumes oxygen. Who and how are you going to fight this fire with your ABC extinguisher? Likely the passengers will panic and stampede away from the fire impeding fire fighting. Could the fire be fought if the crew dives the plane to quickly get to a lower altitude? If a plane can be depressurized enough to extinguish a fire what would be the effect on people? Just because seats and fabrics have been designed to melt not burn (I assume they burn at some temperature) does not mean that there is not plenty of other flammables, for example luggage.

From Wikipedia:

China Northern Airlines Flight 6136, an MD82, brought down in 2002 by gasoline fire caused by suicidal passenger. Death was caused by CO poisoning.

I think some people have such an emotional need to prove that TSA is a bunch of idiots that they will not even consider what an inventive terrorist might do.

BTW, I have no relation with TSA or any other security agency. I do have a background in chemistry and I am very uncomfortable when people claim that nothing dangerous can be done with 12oz of fluid (more if I have partners).

Anonymous September 19, 2007 2:33 AM


Liquids are not, in general, significantly more dangerous than non-liquids.

If you want to protect against any kind of threat that you could remotely begin to imagine, you should ban all carry-on luggage and have people strip-searched, forced to use airline-provided clothing aboard the flight and strapped to their seats.

You’re the one who’s being emotional – you’re scared by something that isn’t such a huge threat. Successful terrorist attacks are rare, under the current circumstances there’s no need to make huge trade-offs favoring a slight addition of security instead of keeping cost and convenience at reasonable levels.

alfora September 19, 2007 2:42 AM

@Anonymous: I don’t think that Norm is either scared or emotional. He/She just strengthened the point that there is no sense at all to ban nonhazardous liquids when at the same time you are allowed to bring flammable liquids (or nearly any non-liquids) on the plane.

aracne September 19, 2007 4:56 AM

I’m absolutely sure this new trade off focus is motivated by a couple of parliament members that had the experience of flying without contact lenses solution or a bottle of water. If it was restricted just to mere mortals, nobody will be complaining.

Mark September 19, 2007 5:15 AM

The question is not whether liquids are or are not dangerous onboard airplanes. A motivated adversary will always find a way to disrupt our lives.

Rational decisions are rarely achieved in an environment where fear is the main motivator.

Yes a Granny with knitting needles could present a risk to air safety – but how much of a risk? And yes, my bottle of aftershave could ignite the interior of an airplane –but when has that EVER happened? – or even come close to happening?

There is no such thing as a risk free environment – it may be difficult to comprehend, but my belief is that the current restrictions just make us LESS safe. My reasoning is that we are fueling a sort of Cold War with those elements who would do us harm. They can see that their efforts to disrupt our way of life are working – as the US and Western Democracies have rushed to offer up their civil liberties in the vain hope of improved safety. This just eggs them on allowing them to draw more recruits to their cause and to create ever more inventive ways to attack us.

bob September 19, 2007 7:09 AM

The TSA banning 1 item at a time until we all fly naked is similar to the EPA restrictions on cars. Currently you can drive your average brand-new car around LA and the exhaust will be cleaner than the air it took in. Yet they keep coming up with ways to make it 0.00023% cleaner at a cost approaching 100% of the base cost of the car. Yet commercial trucks, buses and locomotives are completely unregulated and produce 1,000,000 times the pollution of a car each minute (and run 10-24 hours continuously every day).

So a small investment in effort on the trucks would produce relatively HUGE environmental benefits, yet they always return their focus to automobiles and making a trivial gain at enormous cost because its easier to do (politically, not technologically; no such thing as a car buyers union).

Environmental theater?

Benjamin Random September 19, 2007 7:35 PM

Repealing the ban on liquids is a great idea, and the United States should follow suit. The last time I flew, they were so concerned about my hotel-size cask of shaving cream that they completely ignored the snap-off style of pocket knife I had with me.

Matt from CT September 22, 2007 10:10 PM


EPA has taken large steps to improve the pollution performance of trucks & buses — as of this year, Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel has been mandated which required significant re-engineering of refineries and engines.

But the point is still valid — government agencies and politicians love to make up bogey men and expand thier shadow beyond all reasonable bounds in order to control people — whether it’s old fashion air pollution, communists, terrorists, or global warming.

Kind of like the slogan someone above — We’re from the Government, and we’re here to keep you safe from terror and reason.

Albatross September 23, 2007 6:33 PM

A woman on my recent flight out of Philadelphia tried to bring on board a can of Cheez-Whiz. There are so many things wrong with this that I find it hard to know where to begin. Two of the items prohibited are aerosols and gels: Cheez-Whiz is indisputably delivered by an aerosol, and is arguably a gel. But more importantly, why is she eating Cheez-Whiz, which, while arguably aerosol and arguably a gel is much closer to Whiz than Cheez. And even were one to eat such stuff, why would one transport it from Philadelphia to Chicago? Does Chicago not have Cheez Whiz? Is she going to suffer an insatiable Cheez-Whiz craving in between O’Hare and the nearest 7-11?

Security? Oh, right, sorry, just off on a rant…

Bern September 24, 2007 10:38 AM

These bans are only effective against untrained civilians. If a terrorists wanted to bring liquids aboard a plane, he will.

Smuggling isn’t that difficult. Just look at any prison in the the U.S. or ask any drug mule.

aircraft July 7, 2008 7:43 AM

Though the security plan will have certain benefits but i think it should not come over the cost of the project at all.

KD February 12, 2011 7:33 AM

The Administrator of the TSA, at the time of the liquids-ban, was Kip Hawley. Mr. Hawley authored a response to the many questions about the reasoning behind the liquids ban, addressing those questions he heard most often. The link is:

I find it interesting that so many people are upset over the liquids ban, because, in short, they find it inconvenient. Some are only too ready to point out how very few terrorist attacks there are. There is no way to track how many terrorist attacks are deterred; you can’t measure what you don’t know, and didn’t happen.

Without the data on estimated effectiveness of this initiative, the impact is obviously up to the individual’s perspective.

I miss the convenience of putting all my toiletries (travel size or not) into my carry-on luggage, but if this security measure stops even one idiot from trying to attack people, and stops even one person from getting hurt, I’m willing to tolerate what is, at most, a minor inconvenience.

Clive Robinson February 12, 2011 8:02 AM

@ KD,

“… but if this security measure stops even one idiot from trying to attack people, and stops even one person from getting hurt, I’m willing to tolerate what is, at most, a minor inconvenience”

We know that the liquid ban has not stoped idiot’s trying, nore has it stopped people getting hurt, and the ban is far from a “minor inconvenience” to quite a few people and they get hurt by it. Thus more people have been hurt by the policy than have been hurt by liquids on aircraft prior to the policy.

Further it has been shown how inconsistantly and badly it has been applied that for any determined idiot it is easy enough to circumvent.

In short it’s a failed policy that hurts people and serves no reasonable purpose.

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