US Homeland Security crackdown adds to cabin baggage confusion for transatlantic flight passengers

British Airways initially warned that travellers with non-functioning devices would be barred from the plane

Travel Correspondent

Passengers with transatlantic flights on several airlines face confusion over new rules on electronic equipment.

The US Department of Homeland Security insists that passengers boarding America-bound jets in the UK have all their electronic equipment checked, and specifies that devices that cannot be powered up must not travel with the passenger. But confusion reigns about what happens to passengers carrying electronic gear with flat batteries.

The crackdown follows the apparent detection of another plot to down an flight to the US, this time using explosives smuggled aboard hidden in a laptop, tablet computer or smartphone.

British Airways initially took a hard-line stance, warning travellers with non-functioning devices that they would be barred from the plane: “If, when asked to do so, you are unable to demonstrate that your device has power you will not be allowed to fly on your planned service.”

In other words, a passenger whose e-reader had run out of power during a connecting flight to Heathrow and who could not recharge it in time would be offloaded from the transatlantic departure: even if they were prepared to have the item confiscated.

Later, that policy softened to: “The device will not be allowed to travel on your planned service.”

Two of the leading US airlines have refused to answer questions from The Independent about how the new rules are being enforced.

British Airways initially took a hard-line stance, warning travellers with non-functioning devices that they would be barred from the plane British Airways initially took a hard-line stance, warning travellers with non-functioning devices that they would be barred from the plane

A spokeswoman for American Airlines said: “We have no comment to make on the enhanced security measures, American has a long-standing policy of not saying anything when it relates to security.”

And a United Airlines spokeswoman said: “We work closely with federal officials on security matters, but we are not able to discuss the details of those efforts.”

Only Virgin Atlantic has a clear policy for assisting electrically challenged passengers. A spokeswoman told The Independent: “Customers can leave a device with the airline at the airport but the customer will be responsible for all costs to have it returned to them.

"We will give the passengers a receipt which details how to get their items back and the items will be looked after by G4S who will log all items and store them for the passenger. Passengers can arrange collection on their return.”

If a passenger cannot power up their device and chooses not to fly, Virgin will rebook them to the next available flight free of charge in the same cabin of service.

The airline will not, though, pay for overnight hotel stays. Virgin also says: “Passengers who have not commenced any part of their journey can claim a refund.”

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