Security

Tips on dealing with the electronics ban on planes

 

 

Travelers are trying to figure out how to deal with new government rules placing an indefinite ban on electronic devices larger than smartphones from the cabins of commercial aircraft flying to both the United States and the United Kingdom from certain countries.

Canada is also considering joining the electronics ban for flights.

Here are some tips and things to consider if you’re booked on one of these flights, taken from my story on this topic for NBC News Travel.

 

In the United States, the ban covers nine airlines (Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabia Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates Air and Etihad Airways) and direct flights to the U.S. from 10 specific airports listed here.

In the United Kingdom, the ban covers inbound flights from six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

“The ban means there is probably intelligence indicating a terrorist group or individual has been planning to detonate a device on board a commercial airplane, using an electronic to either hide an explosive, or as a triggering device for an explosive,” said aviation safety and security expert Jeff Price.

The ban also means that, for the foreseeable future, travelers booked on more than 125 affected flights a day to the US and UK will have to put devices such as tablets, e-readers, cameras, laptops, portable DVD players, portable printers and scanners and video games in checked baggage.

Travelers are concerned not only about how they will spend their time during flights, but the fate of the devices checked in airplane holds.

“Am I seriously going to check a $3-5K dollar camera? Not a chance,” said Washington, D.C. –based writer and photographer Emily Troutman, via Twitter.

As the bans begin to go into effect, experts are sharing advice and tips for those currently booked – or about to be booked – on the affected flights.

“Back up all your data and save it to the cloud, arrive at the airport early, bring your phone charger or buy one at the airport, and bring some good material,” suggests travel pro Johnny Jet in a web post and try switching to connecting instead of a direct flight from one of the affected airports. “If you’re booked on the Emirate non-stop from Dubai to the U.S., you can also see if they’ll move you to one of their one-stops through Milan or Athens,” he said.

Other travel experts suggest loading work files, books, games and other entertainment onto phones and purchasing or bringing along an external keyboard to make typing and accessing the information easier.

“Upgrading to a larger memory phone might be in order,” said Farecompare CEO Rick Seaney, whose research shows the ban will initially affect approximately 126 flights a day to the US and UK, with over 40,000 potentially inconvenienced fliers.

Families traveling with children, who have come to rely on movie and game-filled tablets for entertainment, should make sure to pack “some good old-fashioned unplugged entertainment, such as books, puzzle books, and coloring pads,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert at About.com.

And this may be a good time to explore the offerings on the affected airlines’ in-flight entertainment, some of which is quite extensive.

Not long after the ban was announced, Middle East carrier Emirates posted a “Who Needs Tablet and Laptops Anyway?” Tweet with a reminder that the airline offers “Over 2500 channels of the latest, movies, box sets, live sport and kids TV.”

While in-flight entertainment on a long flight is helpful, it won’t replace laptops for many travelers.

The ban “is simply unworkable for most business travelers. They need to be productive during their trips,” said the Business Travel Coalition in a statement, “Many business travelers do not check luggage, even on long flights as it slows them down upon arrival at baggage claim. Now they will have to check their electronics with many paying for the privilege.”

For those concerned about gear getting lost or stolen, insurance coverage from the airlines, travel insurance providers and certain credit cards may be helpful, “But the primary concern for most business travelers regarding the theft of electronic devices isn’t the value of the device itself, it’s the value/sensitivity of the data stored on the device,” said Max Leitschuh, iJET International Airline Safety Analyst.

Another option? Not checking electronic devices at all. “My recommendation is to ship your electronics to your destination,” said aviation security and safety expert Jeff Price, “There’s no way I’d put my laptop in checked baggage. And those little locks they sell can be defeated in about 15 seconds with a good paperclip.”

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Soon that bag of liquids may stay in your bag

amsterdam-liquids

We can send a rocket ship into space – and get it back – but we still have to limit the amount of liquids we take through airport security checkpoints and pack our no-more-than 3.4 ounce containers in one 1 quart-sized baggie.

And unless you’ve got TSA PreCheck, you need to fish that baggie of liquids and gels out of your carry-on every time you go through the security checkpoint.

But, thanks to a test going on at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, that may change.

At two security lanes at Schiphol, security officers are using scanning devices and software that allows them to not only see inside a bag, but to turn it 360 degrees and view it from all sides.

At the test lanes, all travelers are being allowed to leave their baggies filled with liquids and gels inside their carry-ons.

If the test works out, Schiphol plans to install the new baggage scanning devices at all 67 of its security lanes by the end of 2017 to speed up everyone’s checkpoint journey.

And if it works there, it’s a good bet other airports will get the modern scanning devices too.

amsterdam-liquids2

A monkey, a missed meal and guns

Some of the guns found at airport checkpoints Aug 5-11

I’m on fill-in duty this week on the Today in the Sky blog over at USA TODAY and having fun working up a variety of both serious and off-beat stories relating to airports and airlines.

Monday’s line-up:

An update on the “monkey on a plane” story that was all over the news last week;

A story about British Airways replacing a second meal service with tiny chocolate bars and other small snacks on some longhaul flights between London and the east coast;

And a look at the new record set by TSA for most firearms found at airport checkpoints in one week.

How to fix the TSA

TSA LINES

Thanks to modern inventions such as ATMS, self-checkout lanes in grocery stores and you-pump gas stations, modern day citizens don’t stand in line very often.

And when they do, it is often willingly at a place like Disney World where a thrilling ride or a charming come-to-life cartoon character is the reward.

That makes waiting in line at airport security checkpoints all the worse.

And fixing the current problems all the more challenging.

I outlined some of the solutions being proposed in a story this week for NBC News, starting with the TSA’s own ten-point list of fixes:

1. Maximizing the use of overtime for TSA officers
2. Hiring more TSA officers, including another 768 this year
3. Additional K-9 teams
4. Allowing Federal Security Directors at airports to use more flexibility in training TSA staff for screening
5. Developing specific plans to cut down on wait times at some of the nation’s busiest airports
6. Reducing carry-on luggage (size and number)
7. Asking airlines for help in non-security tasks
8. Doing more research and development into technology that will increase passenger flow through security
9. Encourage travelers to sign up for TSA PreCheck
10. Working with Congress to get additional resources for the TSA

Some of these ideas are already being put into action and some – like the suggestion that airlines stop charging for checked bags – are getting pushback from airlines, which last year made $3.8 billion from checked bag fees.

Some airports have said they want to opt out of TSA and hire private contractors – who may or may not be better and faster – for checkpoint duties, but that process takes at least a year and, in the end, TSA still oversees the checkpoint operations.

Another idea being discussed is a reservation system for the security lines, much like Disney’s FastPass, which allows park visitors to reserve times for attractions and entertainment.

One airport — in Canada — says it’s already using a similar system with success.

Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International uses a SecurXpress program that sends passengers a text message containing an appointment time for going through a designated security line.

This helps the airport “modulate traffic at peak times and makes the whole process more seamless for everyone,” said YUL spokesman François-Nicolas Asselin, and is currently being used by up to 500 passengers a day.

Checkpoint reservation systems, and policies that allow families with small children and passengers in danger of missing their flights to move to the front of the line, could help ease tensions on airport security lines, said Richard Larson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s sometimes known as “Dr. Queue.”

But he says the circus entertainers, therapy ponies, live music and free snacks some airports are offering to those waiting in long checkpoints lines could backfire.

SAN DIEGO, APRIL, 29, 2016: Members of the Fern Street Circus perform at the San Diego International Airport. Photo: Gary Payne

SAN DIEGO, APRIL, 29, 2016: Members of the Fern Street Circus perform at the San Diego International Airport. Photo: Gary Payne

“It works for Disney in the amusement parks,” said Larson. But passengers who miss flights due to long checkpoint lines may end up being more furious “because they’ll feel like they were being distracted from what’s really important — getting on the plane.”

TSA’s 2015 gun tally

For the Runway Girl Network, I put together a year-end review of the guns, weapons and assorted odd items discovered by TSA at airport checkpoints during 2015.

TSA GUN

In 2014, the TSA reported that it had discovered 2,122 firearms in the carry-on bags of passengers. That was an average of six firearms per day and was a 22 percent increase over the number of firearms (1,813) found in 2013.

TSA’s official 2015 Year in Review is due out any minute, but my unofficial tally taken from the weekly reports on the TSA Blog adds up to 2,495 firearms found at airport checkpoints this past year – which is yet another new record.

Of course, prohibited items found by Transportation Security Officers in carry-on bags and on passengers passing through security checkpoints aren’t limited to firearms.

Last year TSA found, 40 pounds of marijuana in one man’s bag at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a meat slicer at Southwest Florida International Airport and a knife concealed inside a souvenir replica of the Eiffel Tower, found at Oakland International Airport.

Meat Slicer found in a carry-on bag at Southwest Florida International Airiport_edited

And, in the same week in March that the TSA found 55 firearms (51 loaded; 13 with a round chambered) and 13 stun guns, a Chihuahua was discovered inside a checked bag at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

How did that happen?

“Apparently, the dog climbed in while its owner was packing her suitcase. TSA worked with the airline to identify the owner, and the two were happily reunited,” the TSA reported.

Knife concealed in an Eiffel Tower replica - found at Oakland Airport_edited

Chihauhua found in carry-on bag at LaGuardia Airport_edited