I see the TSA have brought in new rules for devices, in response to intelligence that terrorists may be trying to pack mobile phones with explosive, so checks before flights can include having to prove the device can power on.

Although fearing the worst and allowing lots of extra time at airports, I have not yet encountered any checks of this sort over and above the usual taking devices out of bags so they can be scanned separately.

From various news articles, there doesn't appear to be any consistent view as to what checks will be carried out.

Can anyone here clarify what they do? Do you have to prove a phone can make a call, or just show it is powered on?

  • Call me paranoid... why would your phone be able to power on and not make a call? Are you asking us if you simply need to have your explosives-laden phone have a power on led that works? – CGCampbell Jul 14 '14 at 15:13
  • If i were an attacker that is exactly how i would think. I'm just puzzled as to exactly what these guys are going to check for. – Rory Alsop Jul 14 '14 at 15:24
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    @CGCampbell: Poor coverage, lack of international roaming agreements and being in foreign countries with cellular networks not supported by your cell phone are just some of the reasons why it's not necessarily possible to make a call with a genuine phone. Modern cell phones are perhaps too small, but I would also assume that it's a manageable problem to embed enough explosives in a laptop to take down a plane and still leave enough of the laptop intact for it to be working normally. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 14 '14 at 15:46
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo And that's exactly why the U.S. requires you to pull laptops out of your bag and run them through the X-ray separately - so they can get a better look at them and make sure they don't have extra 'special features.' – reirab Sep 16 '14 at 23:55
  • My understanding of this rule is that it applied to all mobile electronic devices (e.g. including tablets and e-readers, for instance,) not just phones. Obviously, tablets and e-readers can't make calls even if it weren't for the network issues that affect phones mentioned in Tor's comment. – reirab Sep 16 '14 at 23:59

The most important thing to remember about these new regulations is that they only apply at "certain overseas airports".

In general, the TSA has no authority at overseas airports, and all airport security is carried out by the equivalent security group in the country the airport resides in.

However at some international airports, direct flights to the US do undergo additional screening, which generally consists of little more than a few basic questions, a (normally rudimentary) searching of your bags, and if you are "randomly" selected, a metal detector wand and/or pat-down search of your body - although the exact process varies from country to country and person to person.

What was announced recently was an additional check in this process, which will most likely be applied "randomly" (for some definition of randomly that probably isn't), and probably only to a small percentage of travelers.

According to the TSA Blog :

Electronic devices are already screened daily, but now, security officers might ask that you power up your devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft, so it’s important to have them charged prior to going through security.

There is no mention of actually having to use the device (eg, make a call) in either the TSA blog or any other reference to these requirements that I've seen. As long as your device can be powered on (or, obviously, is already powered on) then you're good!

So realistically this new check will really only impact you if you fly out of certain foreign airports on a flight to the US, AND you're selected for additional screening, AND you have an electronic device that is turned off, AND if you're not able to turn it on for some reason.

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    In the UK it has been announced it also applies to other flights with destinations to countries other than the US : bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28223150 – Josh B Jul 15 '14 at 7:05
  • Unfortunately the UK seems to follow the US in a lot of these decisions... – Rory Alsop Jul 15 '14 at 7:34
  • The TSA has no control over flights to/from the UK (except those also to/from the US), so this is in effect a separate policy - even if it does mirror the US'es policy... – Doc Jul 15 '14 at 15:48

Here is a link to the official announcement from the TSA:


The text contains the following statement:

"During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft."

There is no mention of it having to be capable of making a call, only that you can power it up. The new rules apply only to certain airports that have direct international flights to the USA.

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    Realistically, that would mean a LOT of airports. – Aditya Somani Jul 15 '14 at 5:29
  • @AdityaSomani: True, but it's not all airports. For example, Auckland airport has confirmed that they are not required to perform these new electronic device security inspections. – Greg Hewgill Jul 15 '14 at 20:20

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