Q&A: What does the increased security mean for airline passengers?

Simon Calder answers the key questions

Airline passengers heading for America can expect much stricter airport security. So what are the concerns of the US, and what will it mean for travellers?

What’s the background?

There have been several attempts by terrorists to blow up a passenger jet bound for the US, using explosive material smuggled aboard the plane. One took place in 2001, when the so-called “Shoe Bomber,” Richard Reid, attempted to blow up a Paris-Miami flight using explosives concealed in his shoes; in 2006, the “liquid bomb plot” aimed at downing transatlantic jets was uncovered, leading to the present tight restrictions on liquids in cabin baggage; and in 2009, the “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb aboard an Amsterdam-Detroit flight.

Intelligence has now reached Washington DC suggesting that another attempt could be made, involving much more creativity and sophistication on the part of the bomb-makers. The latest intelligence obtained by the US suggests that a bomb could be taken through airport security in a smart phone, e-book reader, laptop or tablet computer, or concealed in shoes.

Accordingly, the Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, said: “I have directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.”

What will it mean for passengers?

There should be no effect on the vast majority of travellers using UK airports, because they are travelling to other destinations – for which the security regime is unchanged.

Passengers heading for America will pass through the normal central search, but will encounter a second, more intrusive, check at the gate – shortly before they step aboard the plane. More technology is likely to be deployed in the form of swab analysis to test for microscopic evidence of explosives. Passengers can expect their shoes to be screened, and any electronic devices to be closely inspected.

The Transportation Security Administration says: “During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted on board the aircraft.”

Heathrow airport warns: “Make sure any electronic devices are charged before you travel. If your device does not switch on, you may not be allowed to bring it on to the aircraft.” Gatwick airport advises: “Make sure your hand baggage contains only valuables and items you will need during the journey.”

The problem is particularly acute for transit passengers. Suppose you are flying on the popular route from the UK via Reykjavik to the US. The first flight is three hours long, enough to deplete some laptops. If you cannot power up the computer at the Icelandic airport, it and/or you will not be allowed on board.

So I could face my phone or computer being confiscated?

On some airlines you may have a choice, of sorts. You could choose to surrender the device to security and then board the plane. Virgin Atlantic says: “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.”

British Airways says: “We have in place a range of options if customers are not able to comply, when requested, with the new US regulations. Customers can ask to be rebooked on to a later service. If you wish to carry on the item as part of your hand luggage, you will need to ensure that the device can be charged ahead of your rebooked flight. Customers are able to leave the device behind and hand it to a member of British Airways’ customer service team. You will be asked to complete a form and the item can be collected on your return to Heathrow or forwarded to an address of your choice.”

American Airlines told The Independent: “Customers departing from certain European airports with electronic device that won’t power on will be given the option to mail the device to their home or other location, discard the device, or be rebooked on a later flight at no charge.”

United declined to comment.

However, abandoning your device or surrendering your flight should be a last resort. If you have left the charging cable behind, other passengers may be able to lend you theirs so you get enough juice for the duration of the check.

BA adds “Please do not bring any broken devices in your hand luggage to the airport as you will not be able to fly as planned.”

Must I leave stuff out of my cabin baggage?

Unlike August 2006 – when suddenly liquids were banned – the rules on what you can carry have not changed. But if you don’t need electronic equipment on board, consider placing it in your checked baggage. In particular, if you have a broken piece of equipment that you are waiting to get fixed, make sure it goes in your checked luggage. Don’t place your chargers in your checked baggage, though, in case your device runs out of power.

What if I buy new electronic gear in an airport duty-free shop?

If you are flying to the US, you must be confident that you will be able to charge it sufficiently before going through the departure-gate check.

Is my flight likely to be disrupted?

No. There were huge queues for security at Manchester airport in the few hours following the alert becoming public. These were not caused by more intensive security at central search – but by passengers panicking and thinking, “We’ve got to get to the airport now or we’ll miss our plane.” The fears about long waits became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Evidence from Heathrow and Gatwick, the main US gateways, suggests only minor delays. If these increase, for example because of the time taken to screen passengers at the gate, long delays or even cancellations could occur. But so far, UK airports and airlines seem to be coping.

Will it be the same when I am flying home from the US?

No. This is a specific fear about flights originating in Europe or the Middle East. Security for inbound departures to the UK remains unchanged.

Is this a permanent change that we have to get used to?

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, says so – but experience suggests otherwise. Extra checks for US-bound flights were implemented in 2009 after the “underwear bomb” attempt, but were quietly withdrawn in the following months. Overall, the trajectory of airline security is moving to become less intrusive and more accommodating, e.g. allowing liquids in quantities greater than 100ml.

Ultimately the present security search area should be replaced with a long corridor equipped with detection equipment. But the US will always be a special case. This is, once again, a reflection of American concerns about the destruction of US-bound jets, rather than a global threat against all kinds of passenger aviation.

By concentrating on this particular risk, could we be missing other dangers?

Possibly. The aviation community is alarmed that the queue for security could itself become the target of a “landside” airport attack perpetrated by terrorists who have not had to go through security.

There are also concerns about hard-to-detect implanted weapons; every day, drug “mules” carry narcotics that have been placed within their bodies, and it is plausible that a suicide bomber could emulate them. Finally, there is a constant worry that a surface-to-air missile could attack a plane landing or taking off. Several unsuccessful bids have been made, and many suitable weapons are in circulation among the world’s terrorists.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments