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I debated this, but I think it's askable. I just flew transit through Beijing. Did NOT enter the country. You still have to go through security though, but whatever, it just takes time. Until I got called aside for questioning about my Anker Power Charger (this model).

The conversation:

Security: "What is this? It has no label"
Me: "It's a USB charger, for charging my phone, for example"
Security: "It has no labels showing how much power, it's not allowed into China"
Me: "It's not going into China, I'm only in transit! Also, where, anywhere, is there a sign saying it must be labelled?" (It had been, but was worn off)
Security: "We can keep it for you, one month"
Me: "What use is that if after a month you still won't let me take it on a flight?"
Security: "Sorry, It's not allowed into China"
Me: "It was MADE in China!"

Anyway, despite my protests, it was removed from me, as well as similar items from other passengers (I got to see a lot of them while having this discussion).

Essentially, however, I had no leg to stand on. They could have claimed my laptop computer for all I knew, and I couldn't see any way to protest, get a claim, or anything like that.

So I guess my question is - is there a way to get documentation of the event, and claim for it later, or a way to officially protest, say from the airport OR the airline, given nobody warned me they'd be looking at and confiscating power banks with worn off labels?

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I'm confused. What did they mean when they said they could keep it for you, if it isn't allowed into China? Surely the only other possibility is to take it out of China, which you would be doing. BTW, the likely reason they're being strict about this is because there are numerous cases of poorly designed chargers electrocuting people or starting fires - here's one that made it to NSW (…). – Sam Jun 27 '14 at 2:50
Oh, maybe this is a case of them allowing it inside checked luggage, but not in hand luggage. I've had customs in HK seize a screwdriver I had in my hand luggage; got a friend to pick it up at the airport and bring in back in their checked luggage. – Sam Jun 27 '14 at 2:53
@Sam Every airline I've ever flown with has prohibited tools such as screwdrivers in carry-on luggage. (Also, what screwdriver is so valuable that you'd drag a friend all the way to the airport to collect it for you, rather than just abandoning it and buying a new one?) – David Richerby Jun 27 '14 at 9:37
Yeah, I lost a few very nice electronics grade tweezers because I had them in my carry-on. Too sharp, apparently. Not so nice to see that Chinese security are apparently attending the same charm school as US security. – Spehro Pefhany Jun 27 '14 at 10:17
@Sam yes that's why I kept asking - I def didn't want to bring it into China, and if it was in my checked luggage and I Did enter China, would they have still picked it up? Guido - in my hand luggage, I've taken it to many countries without problem. – Mark Mayo Jun 27 '14 at 18:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Did you get some sort of receipt? Do you know exactly which kind of "security" official confiscated your item? If not, you'll have a very hard time proving anything even happened, although you can try your luck with the airport's complaints line at +86-10-96158.

In any case, the airline is not responsible. Security rules are laid out by the Civil Aviation Administration of China and enforced by airport security, which can be border police (边防部队), public security (公安部), random non-police rent-a-cops, etc. You presumably ran into somebody who's taking a rather over-zealous interpretation of whatever "smash the terrorists" campaign is currently in progress.

And yes, they could take your laptop if they wanted to, or arrest you and sentence you to ten years of re-education through labor camp for that matter -- you're a foreigner at the mercy of a communist dictatorship, after all, and yes, the transit area is still very much legally a part of China. But I'm still pretty sure you could raise a stink if somebody confiscated an obviously valuable item like a laptop, and the guards know well that there's so much CCTV at any airport security checkpoint that they won't get away with outright stealing anything for their own use.

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Nope, and I don't expect to get it back, there was no 'you can claim this later' (aside from the weird 'one month' offer). It was more in future if that happened, whether there was anything on the spot that I could do to further argue my case. – Mark Mayo Jun 27 '14 at 18:05

I experienced similar things happening to me while I was traveling in China. In both of my cases, the security guard and hotel manager both asked for cash to make some unpleasant circumstances, which they had created, go away. While you're looking for a bureaucratic solution, a bribe might have done the trick.

From the comments, "on the spot fine" seems like a better term than "bribe".

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I don't know China at all, but I would not conclude from the fact that you were extorted by a hotel manager and a security guard, that it follows it's safe or wise to attempt to bribe airport security. In this case they took things from several passengers, so it sounds to me like it probably isn't a ploy to solicit bribes. If it is then they're being way too subtle. – Steve Jessop Jun 27 '14 at 17:05
@SteveJessop Maybe, but the locals know what's going on when it happens. When I was in the hotel, a local I was with handled the situation by offering money. The security at the airport (in my situation) asked me for money to smooth over a visa issue. When I refused, I missed my flight. Bribes are customary in China and I don't think there would be any harm in offering, compared to the west where you may insult someone. Maybe you have more experience... – Verdolino Jun 27 '14 at 19:11
@SteveJessop Oh, you'd never offer a bribe, you'd just enquire if it's possible to pay an on-the-spot fine. Although I agree that airport security is not the best place to try this. – jpatokal Nov 12 '14 at 10:59

While it has been suggested that they were trying to shake you down that's not the case. This is simply some pretty stupid handling of lithium battery rules.

You're not allowed to carry on lithium batteries that exceed 100 watt-hours. Where the stupidity comes in is that they are seizing anything that lacks a label as to what it's capacity is (even if it's simply because the writing has become worn off with time--put some clear tape over the capacity numbers of any power bank you might be taking to China) even if it's obviously far smaller than 100 watt-hours.

Note that checking it is not an option--they don't belong in the hold at all. The issue is the fire danger they pose.

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They are required to check power banks and lithium batteries for the labels and to not allow ones that fall outside of the guidelines. This is a safety issue. I fully support taking dodgy unmarked batteries or power banks off of travelers (and out of checked luggage) and disposing of them as hazardous waste. Every flight I have taken recently in China they pull out the power bank and check the label and hand it back to me. No problem, safety first.

It's only a matter of time before this kind of thing takes down an airliner full of people. This is a serious issue. There are too many bad and poorly protected batteries floating about with more than enough energy in them to start a fire.

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