Q What are your thoughts on the proposed ending of the 100ml limit on hand luggage liquids? Surely it will be huge for the industry and travellers alike.
Rikard, via the latest Ask Me Anything at independent.co.uk
A Many airline passengers say airport security is the worst part of the journey – in particular, the need to limit LAGs (liquids, aerosols and gels) to small containers and extract them from cabin baggage. The regulations were introduced hastily in 2006 as a temporary measure in response to the “liquid bomb plot”. Despite repeated promises to ease the rules, they remain in place.
In 2019 Boris Johnson vowed that the rules would be eased at major UK airports by 1 December 2022, allowing larger quantities and eliminating the need to have liquids separately scanned. Like so many other promises from the former prime minister, that will not happen as planned. But there are hopes that advanced CT scanners may be deployed in the 15 or so biggest UK airports by mid-2024 – 18 years after the LAG rules came in.
I am not sure, though, that it will be “huge” for airlines and travellers. Passenger confusion is a constant problem for aviation security. It may be that your outbound trip in August 2024 from Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester involves light-touch security (leaving your liquids and laptop in your cabin baggage) but the return journey does not. The inbound process could be slow and clunky, with many passengers falling foul of the non-conformity of rules and losing bottles of sunscreen or Scotch.
Also, the airports that are collectively investing hundreds of millions of pounds will seek a return. While the new tech should cut staff costs, representing savings for airports, they may well still plan to raise fees for airlines and their customers.
Ultimately the passenger should be able to walk unchallenged along a corridor flanked by detectors, barely aware that they are being checked. Checkpoints will still be staffed, but security personnel will be freed up to do what people do best: studying the behaviour of passengers and identify “persons of interest” for further investigation. But I will be surprised if this happens in the next decade.
Q I am interested in what LNER are likely to do in December over the next set of RMT strike days – particularly 17 December? How many Edinburgh to London services will there be? And what happens to those of us with advance tickets? Are we automatically entitled to book a seat on another service, or what? We bought advance tickets through an agent that doesn’t seem to offer any option other than cancel for refund as far as I can see. We’ve got no choice but to travel that day.
A As things stand, Saturday 17 December will be the last day of the RMT union’s pre-Christmas strike. Members working for Network Rail and 14 train operators (including LNER) plan to walk out in two 48-hour blocks: 13 and 14 December, followed by 16 and 17 December. (The expectation is that the intervening Thursday 15 December, will be blighted with only a “strike service” able to run.)
Since the current series of national rail strikes began five months ago, LNER has consistently run daytime services on strike days on its core route from Edinburgh via Newcastle and York to London. I expect that will prevail if the next round of strikes goes ahead – with trains every hour or two from around 7.30am to 6.30pm (last departure southbound at around 2pm).
Many people, though, probably including you, will be in the position of holding a ticket for a train that isn’t running. In that case, I recommend you wait and see what LNER proposes. A week before the strike it should become clear what the options are. At this point, you should be able to book a seat reservation for a train that is running. Turn up with your advance ticket and I am sure you will be fine.
Having said all that, when I talked to the RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, this week I sensed a very strong desire to find a settlement and end these extremely damaging strikes. My advice: don’t do anything for at least 10 days. Oh, and if you book direct through LNER it is much easier to handle disruption – as well as collecting an effective 2 per cent discount through the perks scheme.
Q I have worked on a farm all my life and as a result my fingerprints have become eroded. On a recent trip to the US the Customs and Border Protection officer attempted to fingerprint me over a period of 20 minutes. He asked many questions – place of birth, maiden name, etc. Only when I explained my job did he breathe a sigh of relief and say that explained things. Is this problem likely to occur again, possibly in more far-flung places with different languages and cultures?
A Most annoyingly, things are not going to get easier for people in your position over the next couple of years – although in the longer term, I am hopeful that your face will tell frontier officials everything they need to know about you.
Fingerprinting used to be most unusual in the context of travel; during the 20th century the only time it happened to me was when registering for a “driveway” – the opportunity to deliver someone’s car across America. But in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, in which the perpetrators were legally admitted into the US, formalities were strengthened – including the need for fingerprints.
Many other countries have imposed biometric checks, and from 2023 – as the UK government requested through the Brexit treaty – the European Union will require British and other visitors to be fingerprinted on arrival. As with the US and other countries, the check comes with a facial biometric. I hope that the algorithm behind the new EU “Entry Exit System” proves more tolerant of your “eroded” fingerprints than the American version.
Longer term, though, I am confident there will be more focus on face rather than fingers. With the exception of some identical twins, technology is now able to differentiate between us all – using measurements of the spacing of the eyes and the bridge of the nose, the contours of the lips and chins and, crucially, the shape of ears.
As the transportation security firm Thales says: “We recognise ourselves not by looking at our fingerprints or irises, for example, but by looking at our faces.”
While we await the march of progress (and possibly feel concerned about the intrusion into our privacy), I hope the US officials who dealt with you put a note on your record about the fingerprint issue to save you time and trouble next time you travel to America.
Q What’s your view on the impact of these rail strikes? Surely they’re having little to no effect on bringing both parties to a settlement, and are just alienating the travelling public?
A Like millions of other travellers who were planning journeys before and after the festive period, my plans have been torn up as a result of the latest strike call.
The RMT union has announced eight days of strikes in four chunks of 48-hour stoppages: 13-14 and 16-17 December, plus 3-4 and 6-7 January. Between the two there will be an overtime ban, 18 December to 2 January, aimed at causing additional disruption – especially to Network Rail engineering works over Christmas and the New Year, which are designed to improve journeys for passengers.
While around 20 per cent of normally scheduled trains will run on the strike days, many parts of Great Britain will see no trains at all – and there will also be disruption on the days after each bout of strikes.
The stoppages are on top of the separate strike on 26 November by train drivers who belong to the Aslef union and work for 11 rail firms including the big intercity operators, Avanti West Coast, GWR and LNER.
No rail passenger can plan with any confidence more than two weeks ahead (the minimum notice required for a strike), and the rail industry is unquestionably being eroded. I saw Mick Lynch on Tuesday afternoon and he was livid at what he saw as government interference in negotiations. But since the taxpayer will be bearing the cost of the eventual settlement, due to the slump in ticket revenue it is not surprising that ministers are taking an interest.
The RMT believes the public are on its side and understands why the strikes are taking place. Whether or not this is correct, the raising of stakes by calling a further eight days of strikes is, I believe, a tactic aimed at extracting a deal from the employers and the government. The start of the action, 13 December, is a week later than the law requires it to be. Lynch met the new transport secretary, Mark Harper, this week. Even though two-thirds of RMT members voted to continue with industrial action, I imagine the prospect of losing several days of wages plus overtime pay is unappealing. If a settlement can be reached in the next two weeks, the strikes can be called off without disruption. Otherwise, the misery will continue through the winter and the railway will continue to shrink.
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