Potential New Rules on Carrying Electronic Devices Aboard Flights

Potential New Rules on Carrying Electronic Devices Aboard Flights

(Last updated 1:oo p.m. PDT, Wednesday, August 2, 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.

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.)

(Update, July 5, 2017: The New York Times reports that Etihad, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines have been exempted from the laptop ban that had been applied to flights from the ten Middle East airports.)

(Update, July, 12, 2017: Reuters reported that a ban on state-owned EgyptAir passengers using laptops on U.S.-bound flights has been lifted, and that Saudi Arabian Airlines, also known as Saudia, and Royal Air Maroc anticipated that the laptop on its flights will be lifted by July 19th.)

(Update, July 21, 2017: The New York Times reports that “[passengers flying into the United States from airports in 10 Muslim-majority countries affected by the ban may now take their laptops and other large electronic devices into the cabin with them.”

The newspaper said that:

“Instead of carrying out that broader ban, John F. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary, announced last month that there would be new security standards for carriers flying into the United States. The first phase of those new rules required airports with carriers flying to American destinations to quickly demonstrate that they had the ability to screen passengers for trace amounts of explosives.

“More than 280 airports — including the 10 targeted by the original laptop ban — complied with that rule, officials said Thursday.”

Nothing in the Times story counters announcements we covered (below) over the past two days that indicated that passengers flying into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico should expect that their larger-than-cellphone electronic devices could be subject to close scrutiny and passengers might be required to remove those devices from protective cases and power them on at airport security checkpoints.

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.

(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.)

(June 28, 2017 update: Today the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would not be extending the ban on bringing aboard laptop computers to flights in and out of the U.S. from additional airports beside the 10 covered by the original ban. However, DHS said that it would require airports and airlines to comply with new rules, not of which were spelled out, covering “heightened” screening of personal electronic devices and vetting of passengers.  
Wired said that the “new airport security measures that will make getting through to the gate more of a slog than ever.”
The BBC reported that “[a]irlines have 120 days to comply or could face a ban on carrying all passenger electronics” and said that “[t]he measures are vague on specifics in terms of operational application, but will cover 280 airports and 180 airlines, affecting an average of 2,100 flights a day, carrying 325,000 passengers.”)

NEW! Laptop and Tablet Checks on Mexico-U.S. Flights

(Update: July 19, 2017) Several news services, including ABC, CNN, and Associated Press (via the Los Angeles Times) reported that Mexican authorities said that beginning Wednesday, July 19, 2017, electronic devices larger than a cellphone, including laptop computers and tablets, will be “be subjected to heightened carry-on security measures.” Details on those measures were not given.

The Mexican Department of Transportation was quoted as saying that it “recommended that passengers travel with as few of those devices as possible in carry-on bags.”

NEW! Heightened Security on Canadian Flights

(Update: July 20, 2017) Canadian news outlet, CBC, reports that “Canadian travellers to the United States could be subject to ” heightened screening” of their electronic devices when passing through airport security.”

Passengers or their carry-on bags could be subjected to additional screening, as could laptops and tablets which could be required to be removed from protective cases and powered on.

CBC reported that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has said that “[e]ectronic devices that cannot be taken out of their cases or powered on when requested during enhanced screening will not be permitted beyond the screening checkpoint.”

Carrying Aboard Electronics on U.S. Domestic Flights

(Update: August 2, 2017)

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.

But as news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, reported on July 26th: “In the next few weeks, passengers traveling through every U.S. airport will be required to put all electronic devices larger than a cellphone in a separate bin during security screening.”

USA Today said:

“For domestic flights, TSA has been testing stricter electronics screening at 10 airports: Boise, Boston, Colorado Springs, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock, Phoenix and San Juan. The rest will be added as workers are trained to avoid hindering checkpoint lines.”

According to both newspapers, travelers who have enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program will not be required to comply with those new security procedures.

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).

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. However, at least those enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program, will not be required to remove personal electronics from carry-on bags when passing through security checkpoints.

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.

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