This week, the Department of Homeland Security announced enhanced screening procedures on all inbound flights to the U.S. Problem is, it’s unclear what those procedures are
“The Trump administration’s vague travel security policies continue to vex the business travel community,” reads a statement from Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “We still need clarity on what this looks like in practice.”
According to a D.H.S. fact sheet, “the enhanced security measures include but are not limited to:
- Enhancing overall passenger screening;
- Conducting heightened screening of personal electronic devices;
- Increasing security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas; and
- Deploying advanced technology, expanding canine screening, and establishing additional preclearance locations.” [Jump to the bottom of this story for more about preclearance.]
This begs the question: how can travelers prepare for the changes? For example, which airports or airlines pose a particular threat? Might laptops and other large electronics be prohibited in cabins, as has been the case since March on flights to the U.S. from 10 Middle Eastern and North African airports (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Istanbul among them)? How much extra time should travelers allow to get through security? Will some airports face stricter scrutiny than others?
“We’re not going to name any countries, airports or airlines meeting current standards, or ones that are not meeting standards,” D.H.S. spokesperson David Lapan wrote me.
I get it when he says that this is in order not to “ help those who are trying to evade security to do harm.” Still, considering that the new measures will impact some 325,000 passengers, arriving on 2,100 flights on 180 different airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries every day, the potential for disruption is huge.
“How onerous will these new protocols be for travelers and airlines?” asks Koch. “What if an airport or airline has difficulty complying – does that lead to a ban on electronics in the cabin?” The large electronics ban has been hard for business travelers and airlines alike.
Airlines, meanwhile, feel left out of the decisions they’re supposed to help implement. “We believe that the development of the security directive should have been subject to a greater degree of collaboration and coordination,” with airlines, said Nicholas E. Calio, CEO and president of Airlines for America, the industry trade group. American air carriers, he said, “have substantial, practical expertise on these matters as we work every day to protect our passengers, crew, aircraft and the public.”
Lapan calls U.S. airports “already at high levels of security” and echoes D.H.S. Secretary John Kelly’s announcement that the new measures “are meant to raise the bar globally on aviation security.”
“Over the course of the next several weeks and months, D.H.S. [and the Transportation Security Administration] will work with aviation stakeholders to ensure these enhanced security measures are fully implemented,” the D.H.S. fact sheet says. “Those stakeholders who fail to adopt these requirements with certain timeframes run the risk of additional security restrictions being imposed.”
Then there’s the issue of preclearance, which locates T.S.A. checkpoints located in other countries. Passengers clear U.S. customs and immigration before boarding. Currently, there are 15 preclearance locations in six countries: Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Ireland and in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
But wait, you say. If Abu Dhabi has a preclearance facility, preclearance is the U.S. standard, and the U.S. standard is what we’re going for, then why is there still a ban on large electronics on planes from Abu Dhabi?
“There is a process for airlines/airports on the March ‘list’ to have restrictions lifted,” Lapan explains. “Once that happens, Abu Dhabi, and others, may have the large [personal electronic device] restrictions removed.”