Flying with Electronics: Navigating Airport Security with Your Gadgets

Get the scoop on flying with electronics.

You wouldn’t dream of traveling without your smartphone or trusty tablet, but do you know the latest regulations on flying with electronics? The past few months have brought many changes in the rules regarding electronic devices on airplanes. Depending on what kind of device you have, and where you are flying, you may even be forbidden to bring your electronics on the plane with you! In addition to the new security rules, you might be concerned about the privacy of your personal data when you take your laptop, phone, or other device overseas.

Today, we’ll look at the current security rules about bringing your electronics on the plane. Next week, in the second part of this series, we’ll cover data security concerns for traveling internationally with computers and other devices.

New Security Rules – How to Get Your Electronics on the Plane

On July 26, 2017, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced new rules about the screening of carry-on electronics. Under the new rules, when you go through security at a US airport, you will need to pull all electronics larger than a cell phone out of your carry-on bags. Your electronic devices need to be placed in their own bin for x-ray screening, with nothing else in the bin and nothing on top. This is similar to the existing screening rules for laptop computers.

If you are carrying any electronic gadgets that are no larger than a normal iPhone, you can leave them in your bag. You don’t need to worry about your little MP3 player, fitness tracker, or snapshot camera. Those can stay in your purse or suitcase as you send them through the conveyor belt for screening.

Anything larger than a standard smartphone will need to be taken out of your bag and put in a separate bin. This includes electronic items like:

  • tablets
  • e-readers
  • portable DVD players
  • laptops
  • external hard drives or other digital storage devices
  • printers or scanners
  • handheld video game consoles and children’s electronic toys
  • large digital cameras
  • phones with larger than normal screens
  • CPAP machines or other electronic medical devices

These new rules will apply to all flights that take off from US airports, both domestic flights and international ones. The good news is that yes, you can still travel with your iPad and all your favorite gadgets! You just need to take an extra moment at airport security to get them out of your bags.

Yes, you can still travel with your iPad!

TSA Pre-Check Travelers Are Exempt

Getting ready to fly? Take a look at your boarding pass and see if there is a marking for “TSA Pre✓.” If you have that mark, and you are flying out of one of the 200 US airports that have dedicated TSA Pre✓ security lanes, you are in luck! TSA Pre-Check travelers do not have to take any electronics out of their bags. You also can leave on your jacket, belt, and shoes.

How can you get TSA Pre-Check? You can enroll in the program by applying online and then attending a brief in-person interview. A five year membership in TSA Pre✓ costs $85. If you sign up for any of the other Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, TSA Pre✓ privileges are automatically included. But even if you aren’t a member of one of these programs, you may still find the TSA Pre✓ mark on your ticket, as some low-risk travelers are selected at random.

You will need to go through a dedicated TSA Pre✓ lane in order to keep your devices in your bag and your shoes on your feet. If you go through the normal security lane, you will need to follow the same rules as everyone else!

Top Tips to Clear Airport Security with Electronic Devices

For those of us who aren’t cleared to go through the TSA Pre-Check lanes, a bit of advance planning can make getting through security a breeze.

Plan ahead to clear airport security quickly

  • Keep your devices easily accessible.  You’ll be able to pull out all your devices easily if you group them together in a bag that’s easy to open. Don’t bury them in the bottom of your suitcase, or squirrel them away in bags with lots of zippered pockets! You can always repack your gadgets more securely after you have cleared TSA security.
  • Know what gadgets you are carrying. As you pack, keep track of how many devices you are planning to carry on to the plane. If you are traveling with children, take stock of their devices, too. You don’t want to get pulled aside for extra searches because your son left his Nintendo 3DS in the pocket of his backpack.
  • Place your electronics bin strategically. We all love our gadgets. Losing them at airport security at the beginning of your trip would be a nightmare! To minimize the chance you’ll walk off without your electronics, place your device bin on the conveyor belt in between your carry-on bag and the bin with your shoes. You aren’t likely to leave the security area barefoot, and this way, you’ll easily see the bin with your phone and other items as you reach for your shoes.

The No-Fly Zone: When You Can’t Fly with Electronics

The new US security regulations shouldn’t be much of an inconvenience for travelers, but there are a few scenarios in which you absolutely are not allowed to fly with electronics.

The very first ban on flying with electronics happened in October 2016, and targeted only one device: the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone. First the US Department of Transportation and then many international airlines banned the Galaxy Note 7 from flights, both as a carry-on and in checked luggage. Why? That particular model of phone had a nasty habit of catching on fire due to a problem with the batteries. Samsung recalled the phone shortly after that, so you don’t need to worry that your phone will be barred from the plane, whether it is a Samsung or not.

The next electronics ban was announced by President Trump on March 21, 2017. This ban is focused on flights to the US that originate at one of 10 airports in Muslim-majority nations, and it is still in effect at the time of this writing.  Under the electronics ban, if you are flying to the US from Cairo, Istanbul, or another of the named airports, you can’t bring any device larger than a cellphone as a carry-on. Instead, your laptop, tablet, and other gadgets have to be in your checked luggage. (Necessary medical devices like insulin pumps are exempt, but you should be prepared with a note from your doctor.) The United Kingdom also instituted a similar electronics ban at the same time, targeting a slightly different set of airports.

Why Are Electronics on Planes Being Banned and Scanned?

Both the US and UK electronics bans were in response to warnings that terrorists could hide explosives in electronic devices. The US government considered expanding the electronics ban to all flights that originate in or land in the United States. Luckily, though, they decided to simply enhance the security screening of these devices before you board.  That’s good news if you want to use the time on the airplane to get some work done on your laptop. It might be even better news if you want to spend the flight reading on your Kindle or playing your favorite video game!




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