From the in-cabin laptop ban imposed in March (and lifted in July) to the temporary ban restricting travel from six countries that took effect in June and most recently Trump’s “Travel Ban 3.0” that was blocked by the federal court system, it’s been a wild ride keeping up with all the the tightened security measures surrounding air travel this year. Now travelers flying to the United States must brace themselves for more news — and airport delays.
New security measures, including pre-flight screening interviews and more rigorous checks on electronic devices, took effect on all U.S.-bound flights on Oct. 26, 2017.
According to a news report by Reuters, the beefed-up security rules are being rolled out for 180 airlines operating out of 280 airports in 105 countries. An estimated 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States will be impacted.
Airlines are warning travelers that these passenger interviews will slow down the security and boarding process and are advising them to show up at the airport even earlier — up to three hours prior to departure. Travelers may be questioned about the purpose of their trip, duration of their stay, employment status and if they are traveling alone or in a group.
“It seems that this new process will be similar to the existing pre-boarding interviews that are currently conducted across many European airports when boarding a U.S. airline — just applying to more airlines and more inbound origins,” explains Eric Olson, senior consultant of air with Global Business Consulting, the advisory arm of American Express Global Business Travel.
He says, “It certainly adds a layer of complexity and, thus, extra time requirement for the pre-boarding process, but airlines, airports, and passengers have proven successful adaptation in the past.”
Olson advises that passengers arrive to the airport with ample time ahead of their departure and “bring their patience with them.”
While certainly an inconvenience to passengers and airlines, these stepped-up security measures are designed to avoid a larger travel headache — specifically to avoid the above-mentioned laptop ban from being reinstated in some shape or form.
To give more background on why these new protocols are taking place right now: In June, John Kelly, then secretary of Homeland Security, announced there would be a set of new aviation security rules. The first phase, rolled out in July, required airports with carriers flying to American destinations to quickly demonstrate that they had the ability to screen passengers for trace amounts of explosives.
When the laptop ban was lifted in July, European and U.S. officials said at the time that airlines had 120 days to comply with phase two — increased passenger screenings. That deadline was Oct. 26.
During that announcement in June, Kelly also said that airlines that “choose not to cooperate or are slow to adopt these measures could be subject to other restrictions, including a ban on electronic devices on aircraft or even a suspension of their flights into the United States.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As of now, passengers can bring their laptop on the cabin and will not need to stow it in checked luggage — a huge relief to business travelers who are instructed to carry their company devices with them at all times.
However, per new rules imposed by the Transportation Security Administration in July, passengers flying domestically in the United States will have to remove all electronic items larger than mobile phones, such as tablets, e-readers and video game consoles, from their carry-on baggage for screening — unless (hint, hint) they are part of the Trusted Traveler program and have been granted TSA Precheck. Then they do not need to take out these electronic devices for screening at all.
And don’t expect this to be the end of this travel saga. Not only is it possible that other countries will follow suit and impose similar restrictions on air travel in the near future, but Kelly also said that some of the new initiatives — like bomb-sniffing dogs — could take at least a year to implement fully.
Let’s just hope nothing new comes right around the holidays when airports are jam-packed.