30

I have a DIY computer which looks like a 7" tablet, only thicker. The case is plastic, and the whole device is about as thick as a laptop. There are no scary wires popping out and no ticking noises, and there's no problem to turn it on upon request. Opening the case would be a problem though, since it requires a screwdriver and the components (main board, LCD, WIFI antenna, battery) are interconnected by rather fragile cables. All components used to build it are FCC certified, but not the computer as a whole, obviously; and FCC labels cannot be seen without taking it apart. It is powered by a Li-Ion battery of 11'200 mAh and 42 Wh.

enter image description here enter image description here
Pictures are (c) Dmitry Grigoryev, distributed under CC BY

I use it (among other things) for games and movies, and would like to bring it on my trips. Do you think I may face any issues during security checks, especially considering the latest events? I live in France, so answers about European regulations and practices would be the most relevant. However, I do occasionally have international trips (about 3 per year), and any advice about other countries is welcome as well.

PS: the closest information I've found is this question, but it doesn't really help in my case. Coming to the airport one hour in advance and having the luggage checked by the police is definitively too much trouble, I'd rather bring a book on a flight instead.

  • 3
  • 5
    @NeanDerThal, My device lack the most dangerous parts we know from the movies - the colored wires which you cut to defuse it and the evil numpad which starts the countdown. But jokes aside, it's a useful read, thanks! – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 22 '15 at 20:00
  • 19
    Take it to a school. You might get lucky and meet Obama. – Nean Der Thal Nov 23 '15 at 9:27
  • 2
    @DmitryGrigoryev I would guess a bomb without colored wires is far more dangerous since there is no way to defuse it... – Alexander Nov 23 '15 at 12:01
  • 6
    I joined this Stack Exchange just to give you +1 on showing the fantastic game onscreen: Heroes of Might and Magic 3 :) – Joseph Nov 23 '15 at 12:34
25

Here's my take (please take with a grain of salt, it's based on general travel knowledge and not on any specific experiences like this):

People travel with unusual equipment all the time. There's all kinds of scientific, industrial, professional audio, professional photography, etc. equipment, people do try and take all this expensive equipment in hand luggage, and security agents at airports can't be expected to be familiar with all these items. I've never seen an airport or airline security rule that prohibits "unusual" equipment. Also, even though it's a DIY computer, I'm guessing a lot of it is based on off-the-shelf components inside (you likely didn't hand-design the circuit boards and every single microchip), so on an X-Ray it will look a lot like a standard computer. So in general I don't think this is a problem. However:

  1. I think there's a high chance this item will be swabbed (they take a cotton swab, swab the computer, and then put it into a device that tests for explosive residue). This is a quick process, no reason to worry, my normal off-the-shelf laptop gets swabbed occasionally.
  2. There's a high chance you will be asked to turn it on and demonstrate its functionality (at the security checkpoint). Make sure the battery is charged to avoid delays.
  3. Using it in-flight may be more of a problem. I'd avoid turning it on in-flight if I were you, and if you absolutely must turn it on understand that allowing you to keep it on would be up to the discretion of the flight crew.
  4. Of course, as stated in the other answer, given the current security situation and especially in some airports (where security situation is more tense, where they don't have modern swabbing equipment, etc), your mileage may vary. In that case be prepared to check in the item (and possibly pay associated fees). Strange equipment in checked-in luggage is definitely the norm.
  • 3
    There is a difference between a DIY strange electronic device and a strange electronic device bought in a specialised store. Could it make a difference for customs? – Taladris Nov 23 '15 at 3:35
  • 1
    Even during takeoff they don't really require you to turn devices off, just that you disable their wireless capability. If you can do that (especially if there's an obvious way to show it like a standard icon) I don't think it will be a problem. – thanby Nov 23 '15 at 12:00
  • 1
    @AnthonyGrist In the U.S. airlines, I think the general rule is that devices over about 2 pounds need to be stowed in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you for taxi, takeoff, and landing. Not because of EMI, but because they don't want large projectiles flying around the cabin in the event of turbulence, hard braking, etc. They usually draw the line between tablets and laptops (which is a blurry line in the case of some devices.) – reirab Nov 23 '15 at 15:17
  • 1
    I agree in general with this answer... but frankly, I'd just buy an Amazon Fire Tablet for $50 and avoid the hassle. – Jon Story Nov 24 '15 at 10:15
  • 1
    @JamesRyan I didn't mean to say I'd rather get in trouble with security than just take a book on a flight instead. What I meant is that I'm genuinely concerned about my safety and unhappy that security is paying more attention to wierd things than it does to potentially dangerous things. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 24 '15 at 13:01
21

I've travelled from the UK to many European computer/hacker festivals over the last 10 years or so, often taking strange devices similar to yours (homebrew machines, Raspberry Pi boards, 80s retro computers...) through airport and Eurostar security - and I'd say that about 80% of the time it attracts no attention at all - it just goes through the X-ray with no incident. The other 20% of the time they might give it a swab test, or ask what it is (in which case a basic answer like "a hand-held computer" is sufficient). I've never been asked to turn it on or show it working. Overall, my impression is that "strange electronics" by itself doesn't attract suspicion from security staff.

(I should mention that most of the devices I've taken don't have built-in batteries, though - I guess that might conceivably make a difference.)

  • In my understanding batteries only make a difference when they are large enough. Mine is about as powerful as a typical 4-cell laptop battery, and many laptops have 6 cells. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 23 '15 at 8:48
  • 2
    I can only agree with this. I've also flown several times with 'strange' electronic devices and usually they are of no concern, while some times they have been swabbed to check for explosives. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 23 '15 at 13:44
  • I was actually told not to turn on my TI-84+ Silver by the attendant that did the swabbing. – Wayne Werner Dec 15 '15 at 16:34
3

I think you may face issues, especially considering the latest events. Whether justified or not, I don't know. If you miss a flight as a result, you may be able to say "it's their fault, not mine", but that doesn't really help you. I'd buy a cheap tablet instead of taking that risk.

  • 2
    I could buy a cheap tablet, in fact, I already own one which my kid is using. But I will have to set up every app I need on it, I may not be able to run certain apps, and I will have to pay for another copy of apps I will be able to run. That's why I want to understand how big that risk is and whether I'm ready to take it. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 22 '15 at 19:46
  • 3
    @gnasher729 Not particularly helpful. Any passenger may face issues with any item and in the case of a dispute, you must expect always to lose against the security officer. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 23 '15 at 1:33
  • 3
    This doesn't help. The asker is clearly aware that there is some risk involved in taking this computer through an airport security check, and is clearly aware of the consequences if the security personnel don't like it. They are asking for help quantifying the risk and your answer doesn't address that at all. – David Richerby Nov 23 '15 at 9:29
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby but how could such a risk be quantified? – user13882 Nov 23 '15 at 15:55
  • 1
    @jwg Well, gasman's answer quantifies it pretty well by saying that he's done a very similar thing a bunch of times with no trouble. – David Richerby Nov 23 '15 at 20:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.