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Heathrow security screening FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions about security at Heathrow, made up of genuine enquiries received from passengers.

Liquids rules

Bag size and number of bags

Liquids, gels and aerosols

Electronic and electrical items

Beauty and grooming accessories

Security (body) scanners

Sharp or dangerous items

Medicines

Families, children and babies

Exceptional items

Shopping at the airport

Miscellaneous

New liquids rules effective 31 January 2014

What are the changes to the liquids rules?

Duty free liquids, aerosols and gels purchased from any airport or airline may now be carried as hand baggage. However, these must be sealed at the time of purchase with the receipt inside a security tamper-evident bag. Following the initial x-ray scan, security officers may also need to carry out additional checks.

Exceptions to the 100ml restrictions for liquid medicines and special dietary products, such as baby food, remain in place. However, following x-ray screening, security officers may also need to carry out additional checks on these items.

Passengers should continue to present liquids in containers of 100ml or less in a single, transparent, resealable 1 litre plastic bag.

For further information visit our Hand baggage page.

Will I be able to take my items through after any additional checks?

Yes, however where officers are unable to resolve a screening activation, exceptionally and solely for security reasons, liquids may be refused.

I purchased liquid items outside of the airport. Can I now take these through?

The 100ml restrictions for liquids remain in place with exceptions for liquid medicines and special dietary products, such as baby food.

Liquids, aerosols and gels in containers over 100ml are not allowed in hand baggage unless you are carrying duty free sealed in a tamper-evident security bag, liquid medicines or special dietary products, such as baby food. Liquids not allowed in hand baggage should be placed in your hold luggage.

For further information visit our Hand baggage page.

Will it take longer to go through security?

If you are carrying liquids, these may be subject to additional checks. We always recommend that you arrive at the airport as early as possible and ensure you leave sufficient time to proceed through security.

Bag size and number of bags

How much hand baggage can I carry?

That depends on your airline. Many set limits on the size and number of bags you can take into the aircraft cabin. Please check with your airline before you pack.

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Liquids, gels and aerosols

Can I take liquids in containers over 100ml on board?

In most cases liquids, aerosols and gels in containers over 100ml and those that cannot fit inside your liquids bag must be carried in hold luggage (bags that are carried in the aircraft hold). Limited exemptions are in place for liquid medication, baby food and some duty free liquids; however, conditions apply. Further information on these limited exemptions can be found here. For most destinations, anything you buy after security control can be taken on board, including liquids over 100ml.

Some dangerous liquids can’t be carried on aircraft at all. For details see our hold baggage security page.

What kind of plastic bag do I need for carrying liquids, aerosols and gels through security?

Your bag must be plastic, transparent, capable of being re-sealed and no bigger than 1 litre capacity. That's roughly 20cm × 20cm or 8in × 8in. You can only take one liquid bag per person, and all your liquids, aerosols and gels must fit inside with the bag completely closed. Additionally, each individual container within the bag must have a maximum capacity no greater than 100ml.

Liquid bags are available free at security. If you choose to take your own, you must ensure that it complies with the requirements above. If your bag is not of a standard shape and not marked as being 1 litre in capacity, you may be asked to put your liquids in one of our bags so we can be sure that the right amount of liquids are permitted through security.

Your liquids bag must be removed from other baggage and presented for screening separately to your other items.

What foods can I carry on board? Can I take my wedding cake?

You can take most solid foods, including wedding cake, in your hand baggage if you wish. Foods in sauces or dishes containing a lot of liquid will have to be in containers of 100ml or less, and placed inside a single transparent, resealable plastic bag of a capacity no greater than 1 litre.

Bear in mind that it's illegal to take some meat and dairy products abroad. You can find out more at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website, or call 0845 933 5577.

Can I carry yoghurt or fruit juice through security?

You can, but these are considered liquids so the standard liquid rules apply. They must be in containers of 100ml or less, and placed inside a closed single, resealable, transparent plastic bag that has a capacity no greater than 1 litre.

There’s no 100ml limit on yoghurts or fruit juices bought in airport shops after security control.

Can I carry disposable contact lenses or contact lens solution in my hand baggage?

Yes, but the standard liquids rules apply. Each solution container or lens packet must have a capacity no greater than 100ml and must fit inside your transparent liquids bag.

Can I carry lipstick and deodorant in my hand baggage?

You can take solid cosmetics, such as standard lipsticks or stick deodorants, in your hand baggage.

Liquid, aerosol or gel cosmetics, including atomisers, creams, roll-on deodorants, sprays and gels are subject to the standard liquid rules. They must be carried in containers of 100ml or less, within a single closed transparent resealable plastic bag that has a capacity no greater than 1 litre (approximately 20cm x 20cm).

There’s no volume restriction if you pack your liquids, aerosols and gels into your hold luggage (to be carried in the aircraft hold).

What items are covered by the 100ml liquid restrictions?

The 100ml liquid rule applies to all liquids, aerosols and gels. This includes pastes, lotions, liquid/solid mixtures and the contents of pressurised containers, such as toothpaste, hair gel, drinks, soups, syrups, perfume, shaving foam and other items with similar consistencies.

All the above items must be in containers with a capacity of no greater than 100ml. All containers must fit inside a single closed transparent resealable plastic bag that has a capacity no greater than 1 litre.

Can I buy cosmetics, toiletries or drinks after security?

Yes. If you are on a direct flight (with no changes of aircraft along the way) you can take anything you buy after security into the aircraft and on to your destination.

If you are transferring or transiting at another airport after Heathrow, please check the regulations in force at that airport. They may restrict which items you can carry through flight connections.

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Electronic and electrical items

Can I carry electrical items – such as laptops, MP3 players or portable DVD players – in my hand baggage?

Yes, but make sure your electronic devices are charged before you travel. If your device doesn't switch on when requested, you won't be allowed to bring it on to the aircraft. Large electrical items must be removed from cabin baggage and in the case of laptops, from laptop cases prior to screening.

What is a 'large electrical item'?

As a general guide, large electrical items – which must be removed from other baggage prior to screening – are those that are approximately A5 size or larger, or where any dimension is greater than 20cm in length.

Small e-readers and tablets such as Kindles, Ipad mini's and similar sized devices are not considered large electrical devices and may remain in cabin baggage and protective sleeves.

Can I carry spare batteries in my hand baggage?

Safety rules regarding the carriage of spare batteries are complicated and subject to change. For the most up to date guidance please visit www.caa.co.uk.

Does security screening affect camera film?

No. Independent tests have shown that Heathrow's x-ray machines do not affect camera films. If you are carrying professional film rated ISO 800 or faster, you can request the film be searched by alternative means. We will accommodate this where possible but this cannot be guaranteed. Please bring any documentary proof of the film rating with you. We also recommend that you leave extra time to pass through security as additional screening requirements may be required, See our Advice for Photographers page for more information.

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Beauty or grooming accessories

Can I take gas-powered hair tongs into the aircraft cabin?

You can take one set of gas-powered curlers or tongs per person, as long as the safety cover is securely fitted to the heating element and the cylinder has a maximum capacity of no more than 100ml of gas. The cylinder must be detached and is subject to the standard liquids rules which means that it must fit inside a closed single transparent resealable plastic bag that has a capacity of no greater than 1 litre. You can't carry spare gas cartridges or refills.

Some airlines may operate additional restrictions, so please check before you fly.

Airline contact details

Can I take a nail file in my hand baggage?

Yes. If it is particularly sharp or pointed, please ensure that it is under 6cm in length.

Can I take nail scissors in my hand baggage?

Yes, providing the blades are no longer than 6cm measured from the point where the blades cross.

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Security (body) scanners

Why are security scanners installed at airports?

They have been introduced following a Government review of aviation security measures, to ensure we are taking the most effective action against emerging threats to security. They provide an additional, less intrusive method of screening passengers.

What legislation allows security scanners to be used?

Security scanners are a recognised screening method under European aviation security law. It's a Department for Transport (DfT) directive that we use these scanners (under the Aviation Security Act 1982).

How do you decide who has to pass through the security scanner?

Our security officers select passengers at random, or when there is a particular security concern (such as the activation of a metal detector).

If I'm asked to pass through the security scanner, can I choose to be screened by an alternative method?

The Department for Transport considers that there are no known health effects from the scanners in use at Heathrow. The only alternative that can be offered to a scanner is a private search which allows for a more extensive hand-search than usual. Passengers will be escorted to a different location in the airport from the main search area (eg a private search room). The private search may involve the loosening and/or removal of clothing. A person undergoing a private search may ask to be accompanied by a witness.

This alternative screening method will take significantly more time than passing through a security scanner.

Do you use backscatter-type scanners?

No, at Heathrow we only operate millimetre-wave based scanners.

Do children have to be security-scanned?

There are no special arrangements in place for children. The Department for Transport considers that there are no known health effects from the scanners in use at Heathrow. The only alternative that can be offered to a scanner is a private search which allows for a more extensive hand-search than usual. Passengers will be escorted to a different location in the airport from the main search area (eg a private search room). The private search may involve the loosening and/or removal of clothing. A person undergoing a private search may ask to be accompanied by a witness. This alternative screening method will take significantly more time than passing through a security scanner.

Do I need to be security-scanned if I am pregnant or undergoing medical treatment?

The Department for Transport considers that there are no known health effects from the scanners in use at Heathrow. The only alternative that can be offered to a scanner is a private search which allows for a more extensive hand-search than usual. Passengers will be escorted to a different location in the airport from the main search area (eg a private search room). The private search may involve the loosening and/or removal of clothing. A person undergoing a private search may ask to be accompanied by a witness.

Can I view the image that is produced of me by the security scanner?

Yes. Our scanners are fitted with Automatic Threat Recognition (ATR) software. The image produced is a generic stick-like figure, with marks showing where the scanner has detected concealed items [view a sample image]. You can see this image as you exit the scanner. No images are saved or retrievable at a later date.

Will I have to be security-scanned if I am wearing medical equipment?

The Department for Transport considers that there are no known health effects from the scanners in use at Heathrow. The only alternative that can be offered to a scanner is a private search which allows for a more extensive hand-search than usual. Passengers will be escorted to a different location in the airport from the main search area (eg. a private search room). The private search may involve the loosening and/or removal of clothing. A person undergoing a private search may ask to be accompanied by a witness.

This alternative screening method will take significantly more time than passing through a security scanner.

Where can I find out more?

The Department for Transport has published information about security scanners at UK airports, including the code of practice, on its website at www.dft.gov.uk.

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Sharp or dangerous items

Can I carry knitting needles in my hand baggage?

Yes, you can take knitting needles in the cabin with you.

Can I carry glass items in my hand baggage?

In most cases, yes. However, if the glass is hardened and contains a sharp edge or point you may be asked to check it into the hold of the aircraft.

Can I carry snow globes?

Yes, however they are subject to the standard rules on liquids, aerosols and gels which means they must contain no more than 100ml in volume, and must be placed together with your other liquids inside a single plastic resealable plastic bag that has a capacity no greater than 1 litre.

If the volume is not marked and not clearly under 100ml in volume, you may be asked to check it into the hold.

Can I take my jewellery in my hand baggage?

In almost all cases, yes. If the jewellery is particularly sharp or shaped to look like a weapon you may be asked to check it into the hold. If you're not sure, check the restrictions on sharp objects before you pack.

Can I take my house and car keys into the aircraft cabin?

Yes, you can take house and car keys (including car keys that lock remotely) with you. If you keep your keys in your pockets, you'll activate our security equipment so please place them in a tray for screening.

Can I take spectacles (glasses) in a case into the aircraft cabin?

Yes, you can.

Can I take an umbrella into the aircraft cabin?

Yes. Please check with your airline if you intend to carry large golfing-style umbrellas as there may be difficulties storing these in the cabin.

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Medicines

Can I take medicines in my hand baggage?

You can take enough essential liquid, aerosol or gel medicines in your hand baggage to cover your journey plus a reasonable amount to cover any delays. Any liquid, aerosol or gel medication not needed on the flight, together with any spares must be packed in your hold baggage.

There are no security restrictions on the carriage of powder or solid based medicines.

Liquid, aerosol or gel medicines in containers of 100ml or less should be either:

  • Placed inside your single transparent, resealable plastic bag no larger than 20cm x 20cm, along with any other liquid items; or
  • Carried separately together with supporting documentary proof of authenticity such as a prescription or letter from your doctor.

Liquid, aerosol or gel medicines in containers over 100ml must be carried separately, together with supporting documentary proof of authenticity, such as a prescription or letter from your doctor.

At security, you must present all liquid, aerosol and gel medication for inspection. Following x-ray screening, security officers may also need to carry out additional checks on these items.

The rules above apply equally to homeopathic and children’s medicines.

There is no requirement to contact the airport in advance of your travels.

Can I carry an ice-pack / liquid cooling bag?

You can only carry an ice-pack or liquid / gas cooling bag if you are carrying essential medication required during the flight and you can provide proof that the medication must be kept cool. Please see the restrictions on the carriage of liquid medicines for further details.

If your medication is not required during the flight but needs to be temperature controlled you must make arrangements with your airline to store the medicines and cool bag in an appropriate area of the hold.

Can I take my insulin and hypodermic needles in hand baggage?

Yes, you can take insulin and needles with you on to the aircraft. Please see the requirements surrounding the carriage of medicines.

My medicine is temperature-sensitive. Will it be OK in the aircraft hold?

Aircraft holds have areas at different temperatures, so contact your airline to make sure they store your medicine in the right area.

Can I carry tablets or pills in my hand baggage?

Yes. There's no security limit on the amount of medicine you can carry in tablet or pill form. And it doesn't matter whether your pills are prescribed or not.

Can I carry my EpiPen in my hand baggage?

Yes, you can, but please see the requirements surrounding the carriage of medicines.

Can I take my asthma inhaler in my hand baggage?

Yes, but please see the requirements surrounding the carriage of medicines.

Can I take my angina spray in my hand baggage?

Yes, you can but please see the requirements surrounding the carriage of medicines.

Can I take my blood pressure monitor into the aircraft cabin?

Yes, as long as it's small enough to comply with your airline's hand baggage rules. If you're not sure, check with your airline before you fly.

I will be taking bone marrow, stem cells or other medical samples out of the country. What happens at security?

You can take these items through security together with the necessary cooling equipment such as an ice pack or cooling bag providing you carry documentary proof of authenticity. This should normally take the form of a letter from a known medical establishment confirming the courier’s name, details of the sample and what it is being used for and an emergency contact number.

There is no requirement to notify the airport in advance but please arrive early as additional security checks may be required.

The Anthony Nolan Trust provides support to couriers transporting bone marrow and stem cells and should be contacted for further advice.

I am pregnant / have a pacemaker. Do I need to walk through the metal detector?

If you are pregnant or wearing a pacemaker, you may request a hand search instead of walking through the walk through metal detector. Please explain to the officer on duty the reason for your request.

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Families, children and babies

Can I take a baby bag as well as my hand baggage?

Airlines have different rules about hand baggage, so please check with your airline before you fly.

Can I take my child's pushchair to the departure gate?

Yes, you can take a pushchair, pram or buggy all the way to the gate.

Your child will have to come out for a while when you reach security so we can check the buggy.

Arrangements for carrying pushchairs on aircraft and returning them afterwards depend on your airline and destination, so please check before you fly.

Airline contact details

Can I take wet wipes into the aircraft cabin?

Yes, you can.

Can I carry liquid baby food, prepared milk, soya milk, rice milk or sterilised water through security?

Yes, if you are travelling with a baby or infant you can carry a reasonable amount of liquid and liquidised food for the baby or infant for your journey. To assist security screening, please do not carry these items in a flask. Spare supplies must be packed in your hold baggage. 

You can either carry the liquids as part of your liquid bag allowance, in which case the standard liquid rules apply; or alternatively separately in containers over 100ml. Following x-ray screening, security officers may also need to carry out additional checks on these items.

You can buy ready-to-drink formula milk in the airport shops after security. Boots sells formula in 250ml and 500ml sizes. If you’re worried about availability, you can reserve formula by emailing reserve_collect@heathrow.com.

Can I take milk powder through security to make up a bottle of milk in the aircraft cabin?

Yes, you can.

Can I carry breast milk in the cabin?

If you are travelling with a baby or infant you can carry a reasonable amount outside of your liquid bag for your journey. To assist security screening, please do not carry these items in a flask. If you are not travelling with a baby / infant all your liquids must comply with the 100ml rule. Spare supplies should be packed in hold baggage.

Can I carry puréed food in plastic pots or containers in my hand baggage?

Puréed food for adult consumption is treated as a liquid and the standard liquid rules apply which means it must be in a container with a maximum capacity of 100ml or less, and fit inside a single closed plastic transparent, resealable bag that has a capacity of no greater than 1 litre.

If the food is for a baby who’s travelling with you, the rules are a little different – see our advice on liquid baby food.

Can I take my baby's car seat through security for use on the plane?

Yes, you can take your baby's car seat through security. But check with your airline that they’ll allow you to use it on the plane.

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Exceptional items

Can I carry my musical instrument through security?

Yes, but you must check with your airline before you fly because airlines have different rules about how instruments are carried and whether they must be checked in and carried in the hold.

Some accessories, such as percussion mallets, may not be allowed in the cabin. See the rules on prohibited items.

Can I carry my hat box into the aircraft cabin?

Yes, as long as it complies with your airline’s hand baggage rules. If you're not sure what they are, check before you fly.

Can I carry my wedding dress into the aircraft cabin?

Yes, as long as it complies with your airline’s hand baggage rules. If you're not sure what they are, check before you fly.

Can I carry my wig spray in my hand baggage?

Yes, but the standard liquid rules will apply. It must be in a container with a capacity of 100ml or less, and fit inside a single closed plastic transparent, resealable bag that has a capacity no greater than 1 litre.

I am planning a scuba-diving or winter sports hol iday. How do I transport equipment such as air tanks or CO2 cartridges for buoyancy aids or avalanche packs?

Safety rules regarding the carriage of specialist equipment are complex and subject to change at short notice. We recommend that you visit the CAA’s website where you can find full and up to date details.

Please note irrespective of safety rules, for security reasons, all personal liquids, aerosols and gels carried in the cabin must comply with the 100ml liquid rule.

Can I carry sports equipment such as flippers or fishing tackle in the aircraft cabin?

Yes, as long as it complies with your airline’s hand baggage rules. If your equipment contains sharp objects, it may have to be checked in and carried in the aircraft hold. Please check our list of prohibited items here.

To ensure your journey isn’t delayed, contact your airline to confirm arrangements before you fly.

Can I carry ashes through security and on board the aircraft?

Ashes carried in urns may be carried as cabin baggage provided that the urn is made of a material that is capable of being x-ray screened.

If the urn is made of a material that prevents the x-ray screener from clearly being able to see what is inside, then the container will not be allowed through the security checkpoint. It is not our policy to open any urn.

In these cases, the urn must be carried in the hold of the aircraft. We understand that travellers carrying an urn may be understandably hesitant to check the item in hold baggage. For this reason we strongly recommend that you purchase a temporary urn made of a material that can be successfully x-rayed, such as wood, plastic, or other non-lead material prior to travel.

You are also advised to contact your airline to see if they have any specific conditions.

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Shopping at the airport

Can I carry my tax-free and duty-free goods purchased at Heathrow into the aircraft cabin?

Yes you can, but if your journey involves you transferring or transiting at another airport, you will need to check with that airport whether or not they will let you carry them and under what conditions.

If you're travelling within the EU, you can alternatively use our Shop & Collect service to store your airport purchases till you return. Just ask at the till.

Can I buy water or food in the departure lounge to take on board the aircraft?

Yes, you can.

Can I buy tax-free and duty-free goods if I am flying to the USA?

Yes, but if your journey involves you transferring or transiting at another airport, you will need to check with that airport whether or not they will let you carry them and under what conditions.

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Miscellaneous

Can I seal my hold luggage with a lock?

Yes, you can protect your bags with a padlock or combination lock. However, some law enforcement agencies may force entry to the bag if necessary.

Be aware that any bags checked in at US airports have to be left either unlocked or locked with a TSA-approved lock. If you're not sure if this applies to you, check with your airline before you fly.

How can you be sure that terrorists won't get on my flight? How do you know terrorists aren't working in security or smuggling bombs on board with airline food?

Your worries are understandable because all airports and airlines are on high alert against terrorism. Our security procedures are tightly regulated by the Department for Transport and European Commission. They set the standards that we have to follow to maintain security on the ground and in the air. We operate rigorous processes for searching and screening passengers and their luggage before we let them through to restricted areas. Our screening also covers airport and airline catering as well as any other person or material entering restricted areas.

We also have stringent procedures for screening and vetting potential employees before we let them join the airport team. Because security threats change, we're continually reviewing our procedures so we can stay ahead.

Can I carry electronic cigarettes?

Yes.

Can I carry Christmas crackers in my hand baggage

Provided the crackers are in their original retail packaging, you can carry them through security in your hand baggage. But please check with your airline as some have decided not to allow them on board the aircraft.

Can I carry gift-wrapped items in my hand baggage?

We recommend that you don't, as security staff may need to open the wrapping to examine the contents.

If an item that I am carrying is refused at security, can I return and check it in as hold baggage?

In most cases yes, you will be offered the opportunity to voluntarily abandon the item at security or return and check it in as hold baggage.

At Terminal 5 Northern Search, due to immigration control requirements you will not be permitted to return to check-in. In this case you will need to voluntarily abandon the item or where facilities exist, post the item to an onward address using MailandFly.

Do I need to remove my shoes at security?

Only if you’re asked. Some passengers will be asked to remove shoes in order for them to be x-rayed. We can’t comment on the selection criteria.

Can I carry a crash helmet through security?

Yes, but you must remove it when passing through security and check with your airline because some may not allow crash helmets.

I’m connecting through Heathrow and want to visit another terminal. Will I need to pass through security?

You should only transfer to another terminal if you have a connecting flight from that terminal. UK aviation security regulations require all passengers departing UK airports to have been screened to UK standards. Unless you are transferring from a domestic flight, all connecting passengers will be required to undergo security screening at Heathrow before their onward flight.

What can I do to get through security faster?

Save time at security by being prepared and knowing what to expect:

  • Take laptops and other large electrical equipment such as ipads and kindles from your bags and place them in trays. As a guide, large electrical items are those that are approximately A5 in size or where any dimension exceeds 20cm.
  • Small metal items such as keys, coins and mobile phones can be put either in your hand baggage, or in your coat pockets (in the tray). If you keep them in your pocket on your person, you will activate the security equipment delaying your journey.
  • Make sure any liquids, aerosols and gels are in containers of 100ml or less, and place them in a single transparent resealable plastic bag that has a capacity of no greater than 1 litre (approximately 20cm x 20cm). The bag must be completely closed and placed in your tray separately to your other baggage.
  • If we ask you to remove your shoes, they should go in the tray too
  • If you’re carrying liquid medicines in containers over 100ml, have your prescription or doctor’s letter ready.
  • Be ready to go through the security archway when we call you forward.

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