Potential New Rules on Carrying Electronic Devices Aboard Flights

May 30, 2017

in Travel News Updates

  • SumoMe

(Updated 9:00 a.m. PDT Thursdays, June 1, 2017)

Personal Electronics on Flights to and From U.S.

If you’re planning on taking an international flight into or out oft he U.S. in the near future, you had best check the TSA or Department of Homeland Security Websites to find out if you’ll have to stow your laptop in checked luggage.

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The Department of Homeland Security is considering imposing a ban on carrying laptops aboard all flights in to and out of the U.S., extending a similar ban which has applied flights from ten airports in the Middle East since March (and which actually applies to any electronic device larger than a smartphone, including tablets and e-readers.)

Passengers, particularly business travelers, would obviously not be happy about being denied access to their electronic devices during long-haul flights. And if an airliner did not have seat-back video screens installed because the plane’s entertainment system was designed to connect to passengers’ devices, travelers would be limited to watching films and TV programs on the small screens of smartphones.

Those who carry all of their belongings on-board to avoid bag fees and potential misplacement or loss of their luggage, or to allow them to bypass bag claim areas and make a “get away” from the airport, wouldn’t been keen on the proposed ban, either.

European officials have previously expressed concern that stowing a large number of electronic devices powered by lithium ion batteries in an airplane’s cargo could pose the risk of a devastating in-flight fire.

Carrying Aboard Electronics on U.S. Domestic Flights

One of the benefits of carrying a tablet instead of laptop aboard a flight is that the smaller device is likely to fit better on an airliner’s tray table. More importantly, up until now, tablets could be left in carry-on bags although laptops had to be removed and put in a separate bin for screening at TSA checkpoints at U.S. airports.

But when I took a recent flight from Portland, Oregon to Phoenix, I discovered that TSA was requiring passengers, including myself, to remove all electronics larger than a smartphone from carry-on bags. Inexplicably, when I flew back to Portland from Phoenix a week later I was allowed to leave my iPad in my carry-on bag.

I initially thought that I hadn’t been required to remove my iPad at the Phoenix airport because I had a TSA PreCheck boarding pass for the Phoenix-to-Portland leg of my trip, but had to do so in Portland where I hadn’t such a boarding pass.

But after arriving home, I went to the TSA Website to look for an explanation why I had to remove my iPad from my carry-on bag at Portland, but not at Phoenix, since I was aware that in the past TSA had clearly stated that electronic devices smaller than laptops could remain in carry-on bags during screening.

Nothing on the TSA Website addressed my experience, but news reports published shortly after my return from Phoenix said that at ten U.S. airports TSA was testing a requirement that electronic devices larger than a smartphone be removed from carry-on bags.

That report stated that removal of the larger electronic devices would be required in some, but not all of those ten airports (which includes Phoenix). Perhaps TSA staff at Portland International “got the memo,” but didn’t read it carefully, and mistakenly thought they had to require removal of those devices even though that airport was not one of the ten airports listed.

Please Dump Out Your “Other Stuff”

Stories by NBC News, as well as our new outlets, suggest that it won’t be just electronic gizmos that you may have to pull out of your carry-on bag, but perhaps books, food or other items that could make it difficult for TSA screening machines to see inside overstuffed bags as well.

Should you Apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?

At the present time, those with TSA PreCheck status (which TSA can randomly choose to give even to passengers who have not enrolled in the program) usually pass through airport checkpoints more quickly than those without such status, and need not remove shoes, belts or “light outerwear,” pull items such as liquids or laptops out of carry-on luggage, or pass through the enhanced “body scanners” (which caused me to be subject to a “butt pat down” in Portland because I had forgotten to remove my handkerchief and comb from a rear pants pocket).

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It is unclear whether passengers who have been approved under the TSA PreCheck or the Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI programs will be subject to whatever new rules might be imposed regarding what must be placed in checked luggage, or removed from carry-on luggage when passing through airport security checkpoints, before boarding international flights into or out, or domestic flights within, the U.S.

But it’s my guess that they may not, so having a “Trusted Traveler Number” under one of those programs may well prove to be worth the time and money expended to enroll in one.

(June 1, 2017 update: Several news sources indicate that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided not to announce a final decision on extending the existing ban on carry large electronic devices on-board to flights into and out of the U.S. from additional airports including those in Europe.)

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