Travelers are facing beefed up security screenings at airports across the country as the Transportation Security Administration tightens its rules on personal electronic devices such as tablets and cameras.
In addition to taking off belts and shoes, passengers are being asked by TSA agents to take any electronic devices that are larger than a cell phone – that means tablets, e-readers, cameras, wireless speakers and other personal gadgets – out of their carry-on bag and put them into a separate plastic bin for better security screening.
The new requirement by the TSA was tested last summer at 10 airports across the country and is being rolled out to all airports nationwide by mid-May. It comes in addition to the current practice of putting laptop computers into a separate bin to be X-rayed by airport screeners.
"These are the first broad-scale changes to TSA screening procedures in the security checkpoint in more than 11 years," said Lorie Dankers, a spokeswoman for the agency. "Intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation. We know that they are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to disrupt the aviation system by finding ways to smuggle explosive devices in various consumer items with a continued focus on electronics."
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Just like laptops have to be removed from carry-ons and put into a bin, other electronic devices also will need to go into a bin. More than one device can go into a bin, Dankers said, as long as they're in a single layer with nothing else stacked under or on top of them.
"For many years we told passengers to leave tablets in their bag," she said. "That is no longer the case. … The rule of thumb is if it's larger than 4 by 6 (inches), cell-phone sized, and it has a battery compartment or is powered in some way, we want to get a closer look at that to make sure it hasn't been tampered with in any way."
Having the gadgets out of carry-on bags and in a single layer in bins allows TSA agents to get a better view of the items and the remaining stuff inside the luggage on the X-ray machines.
The TSA's 3-1-1 rule remains in effect and limits passengers to only small travel-sized bottles of approved liquids, gels or sprays contained in a single one-quart plastic bag in their carry-on bag. But under the new screening process, passengers must also take out that plastic bag and put it in its own bin for X-ray screening. In the past, the bagged liquids could be put in a bin with other items.
Low-risk, "trusted" passengers who are enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program and authorized to use the expedited PreCheck screening lanes are exempt from the stronger measures. PreCheck passengers don't have to take their laptops, electronics or liquids out of their carry-on bag and don't have to take off their shoes or belts to go through the screening line.