Planning on traveling to the United States anytime soon? Expect bag checks and possible interview questions, among other newly-implemented security screening procedures to secure the skies. This means longer lines and wait times for check-in and boarding, especially until new procedures are fully integrated and running smoothly. Business travellers may be in for a surprise when their usual breeze through the airport becomes a tad more difficult.
The decision made by US President Donald Trump’s administration affecting global travel has been in effect since late October, affecting approximately 2,100 flights entering the US on any given day. This translates to an average of 325,000 daily passengers flying in from 105 countries, including both international passengers as well as US citizens. The new security measures “will help to secure all commercial flights departing from 280 airports that serve as last points of departure to the United States,” according to the fact sheet released by Homeland Security.
There are currently 180 airlines employing new security measures. This includes stricter overall passenger screening, heightened screening of personal electronic devises, and increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas. “The new security directive utilizes multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen,” according to the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Expanded canine screening, additional pre-clearance locations and deployed advanced technology are all efforts by Homeland Security to carry out security measures.
However, not all airlines employ the same methods. Some airports across the globe may lack in screening equipment and other resources, so protocol varies accordingly. Dubai-based Emirates stated that it would begin “pre-screening interviews” at its check-in counters and boarding gates. Egypt Air decided it would carry out more detailed searches of passengers and their luggage as well as conduct interviews. Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said that all passengers need to go through pre-clearance security before boarding a plane to the US, but did not specify those measures because security is handled by US Customs and Border Protection.
Air Canada, as well as other affected airlines, are advising passengers to arrive at least two hours before departure to avoid missing flights. If your flight is scheduled to depart before 10 a.m., you’re advised to arrive to the airport at least three hours early. Travellers should also have all their electronic devices fully charged in case of potential inspection. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft, and the traveller may also undergo additional screening, according to a TSA press release. Any device larger than a smartphone should be removed from its cover or case for inspection. WestJet advises its passengers to arrive at the departure gate at least 45 minutes early.
In a statement on its website, Homeland Security explains the reason for increasing their security measures: “Terrorist groups continue to target passenger aircraft, and we have seen a ‘spider web’ of threats to commercial aviation as terrorists pursue new attack methods.”
These security measures came about after the laptop ban introduced by US officials in March of this year, affecting predominantly Muslim countries. It was imposed in the cabins of some Mideast airlines over concerns that Islamic State fighters and other extremists could hide bombs inside certain devices. When these airlines started examining electronics with CT scanners and swabbing technology, the ban was lifted. However, these methods remain and are a part of the new security measures; passengers as well as their luggage and electronic devices are subject to being swabbed for trace amounts of explosives.
According to the East Texas Regional Airport website, passengers in the US can opt out of being screened with advanced imaging technology. However, they will have to go through an alternative screening method, including same-gender pat-downs. Check with the airport you’re flying from to inquire about their methods and policies.
Security measures will continue to be adjusted and re-evaluated, according to a statement by Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson. For now, expect longer wait times and the possibility of being subject to certain screening procedures.
Helen Jacobs | The Edge Blog