TSA bars battery-dead cellphones from flights

If your cellphone is out of power the next time you fly to the United States from overseas, you might have to leave it behind.

The Transportation Security Administration announced Sunday that on certain overseas flights to the United States, it will not permit “powerless devices” — cellphones and computers that cannot be turned on. Airport security officers may ask passengers to power-on devices during security screening, which could mean slower security lines for travelers. Passengers could also be taken out of line for questioning, TSA said.

TSA already sometimes asks travelers to turn on laptops, presumably to determine if they are real rather than filled with explosives.

It is unclear how TSA plans to deal with passengers without chargers whose devices are dead. The announcement doesn’t say what will happen to a phone that can’t be turned on, or how the owner will retrieve it if confiscated by airport security.

The announcement follows a directive issued last Wednesday by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson: “DHS continually assesses the global threat environment and reevaluates the measures we take to promote aviation security. As part of this ongoing process, I have directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.”  The information, he said, would be shared with foreign allies.

Reuters reported Thursday that the directive was prompted by concerns that terrorists in Yemen and Syria with ties to al-Qaeda have figured out how to turn cellphones into undetectable bombs and are working together on a plot to attack a plane bound for the United States or Europe. Bombs would be hidden on foreign fighters carrying Western passports.

Reuters reported that officials singled out smartphones, including the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, for extra security checks on U.S.-bound flights from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

They are also concerned again about shoes that could have bombs hidden inside.

Flights from airports or airlines that don’t step up security measures could be barred from entering the United States, officials told Reuters.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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