TSA to require electronics larger than cellphones be X-rayed

TSA to require electronics larger than cellphones be X-rayed
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Passengers going through airport security in the U.S. will soon be required to remove more items from their carry-on bags under new screening protocols.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Wednesday that travelers will now be required to place all electronics larger than a cellphone into separate bins in order to receive X-ray screening.

It’s the latest move from the Trump administration as it looks to ramp up national security.

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The enhanced security measures were already being tested in a pilot program at 10 airports but will soon be expanded to include all airports in the U.S.

The move comes amid increasing concern that terrorists are pursuing innovative methods to smuggle bombs onto planes, which prompted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ban laptops on the cabins of certain U.S.-bound flights.

But DHS Secretary John Kelly rolled out a new aviation security plan last month, which is being implemented in stages, that all international flights must follow if they want to avoid the ban on laptops and other large electronics in the flight cabin.

Now, the TSA is raising the bar for aviation security at home as well.

“It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe,” said Huban Gowadia, TSA’s acting administrator, in a statement.

Passengers at domestic airports will now be asked to place their large electronics, such as tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles, into separate bins for X-ray screening. A similar policy has already applied to laptops for years.

The policy will not apply to passengers enrolled in TSA’s PreCheck program, and there have not been any changes to what is allowed in carry-on bags.

There is worry that the new protocols could create headaches for travelers, especially for business travelers who tend to carry more electronics, as well as families who bring devices onto flights for their children. There could also be some initial confusion as the procedures are first introduced at airports.

But the screening measures were already being tested for as long as 18 months in some cases and have generally gone smoothly, according to the agency.

Business travelers also say that this is a far better alternative than having large electronics banned entirely.

“[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, so we are pleased to see TSA taking steps to enhance security, while still ensuring business travelers can keep their devices with them throughout their flight,” said Michael McCormick, GBTA’s executive director and COO.

The reason for the change is that large electronics, which can look like explosives on the X-ray machine, can be more difficult to decipher if they are inside a bag — especially if it is cluttered. Messy bags have become increasingly common as passengers try to avoid fees for checked luggage.

Requiring more passengers to separate their items may take longer on the front end, but the TSA says it ultimately speeds up the screening process if officers have a clearer picture on the X-ray machine and are performing fewer manual bag checks.

“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,” Gowadia said.

There has been some confusion about whether passengers will need to remove books from their carry-on bags under the new screening protocols.

United Airlines falsely announced earlier this week that passengers coming home from Comic-Con in San Diego would not be allowed to put comic books in their carry-on bags.

The TSA had briefly tested requiring passengers to remove their books at two airport locations, but ended the practice. Thick stacks of paper can sometimes scramble the picture on the X-ray machine. Passengers have used books to try to conceal weapons or other prohibited items.

But the TSA emphasized Wednesday that books and other paper will continue to be allowed in carry-ons.

Travelers are, however, being encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered in order to speed up the screening process.

“We weren’t judging your books by their covers, just making sure nothing dangerous was inside,” the TSA said in a blog post on the topic last month. “We may recommend passengers remove items such as heavy, glossy programs during a special event with a lot of travelers such as Super Bowl programs.” 

This story was updated at 6:06 p.m.