The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is an American security agency aimed at, like its name implies, keeping America’s massive transport services secure. The TSA is at its most noticeable in American airports. You know, they’re the people in blue shirts who scan your boarding pass, make sure you have everything out of your pockets when you go through the line, and get really grumpy when you go through the wrong scanner.
Over the past sixteen years, American travelers have been accustomed to a particular lineup of checks implemented by the TSA. Take off your shoes, remove your liquids, and put your laptops in a separate bin. However, that lineup changed earlier today. The TSA now requires that “all electronics larger than a cell phone” need to be removed from carry-on bags and placed in a separate bin for screening. This includes, but is not limited to, tablets, e-readers, handheld gaming devices, and cameras. The program, which as been tested at select airports across the U.S., will be rolled out to every American airport throughout the next few weeks.
“It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe,” Huban Gowadia, the acting director of the TSA, said in a statement. “By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers, and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats. TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security by strengthening the overall security of our commercial aviation network to keep flying as a safe option for everyone.”
“It is possible that passengers may experience more bag checks,” said a statement released by the agency.
This new procedure is a response to what U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly calls an “increased threat to aviation security”. Since some explosives can be as thin as a sheet of paper, it is becoming increasingly easy to hide them in devices smaller than computers. In addition, passengers now pack more items into carry-on bags than ever, making it more difficult for TSA officers to detect threats inside electronics included in these carry-on bags.
The TSA tested this new program at ten different locations across the U.S. for a while before deciding to implement the procedure nationwide. Pilot airports included Boise Airport (BOI), Colorado Springs Airport (COS), Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport (LBB), Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), McCarran International Airport (LAS), and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).
The TSA is optimistic about its new requirements. However, not everyone thinks that it will be good for the system.
“Just watch. You can’t just take more things out of bags and not back up a line,” said Jeffrey Price, an aviation professor who specializes in security at the metropolitan State University of Denver. “The system is operating at just about max capacity. We start putting more delay in the system and we could see the lines back up quite a bit.”
In order to avoid these long delays, the TSA says that it will station agents at the end of security lines so that they can help passengers organize their electronics. The agency also recommends keeping bags free of clutter so that it is easier to find and remove small electronics. The agency is also working to devise new ways of checking bags more quickly than ever before.
It seems, though, that some Americans may not mind extra travel time if it means the system is safer. Travelers would also rather have this process than an outright ban on cabin electronics.
“Global Business Travel Association members have repeatedly told us that travelers will be willing to spend extra time at security to prevent an outright electronics ban,” said Michael McCormick, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association.
Yet, the Department of Homeland Security says that American airports aren’t the only ones seeing more checks.
“On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said that 105 countries will be required to implement enhanced screening of passengers and their electronic devices,” said Marina Portnaya of RT America.
Kelly says that countries and airlines have 120 days to comply with security measures to avoid a ban on all electronics larger than a phone inside airplane cabins on American-bound flights.
This push to get other countries to improve security isn’t knew to the Trump administration. Earlier this year, the U.S. government placed bans on electronics inside the cabins of planes originating from multiple Middle-Eastern countries. The DHS rolled back the ban on airlines and countries that complied with new security screening requirements.
The new process won’t affect everyone. TSA Precheck passengers will be unaffected by the new procedure. Precheck flyers still don’t have to take off their shoes or remove any electronics from carry-on bags. The TSA added Precheck lines to its 200th airport earlier this year.
Multiple agencies are working on developing new screening devices to allow the TSA to detect more while requiring passengers to remove less from their bags. American Airlines, for example, is working with Analogic Corp. to develop a new X-Ray scanner that can create high-definition, three dimensional images and is better able to detect explosive. Ross Feinstein, an AA spokesman, said that this new technology could allow laptops and liquids to remain inside carry-on bags.