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New US security rules are a win for common sense

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The US government’s new security rules for all international flights bound for the US came into effect last week. I experienced them first hand at Auckland airport and, if that experience proves typical, this is a win for safety and for common sense.

I flew Friday from Auckland to Houston International. Auckland is a highly automated airport, so check-in was a breeze and completed entirely through self-serve kiosks. I had carry-on only, including my laptop – something that would have been prevented had the US Department of Homeland Security’s rules been broadened to airports beyond the Middle East and African airports on its so-called laptop ban (now lifted since they all comply with the new security rules).

My passport and boarding pass were scanned and the initial security screening was typical – my bag went through the X-ray machine and I went through a full body scanner. My purse was then swabbed and tested for explosive traces.  After that, I was on the secure side of the terminal, in the duty free and shops area.

The new secondary screening took place at the gate. New Zealand security officers took aside not all, but most passengers. An officer asked me if I had any electronic items larger than a smartphone; I said I had a laptop. He asked if I could take that out of the bag and he swabbed it. Nothing else was removed. He was very polite, relaxed and chatty. It took just a couple of minutes and then I had to show my passport and boarding pass before taking a seat in the gate area and boarding in the usual way.

Whether larger international hubs will be able to process passengers as easily and quickly (or, indeed, in such a friendly Kiwi manner) remains to be seen. But the process at Auckland demonstrates that extra levels of security can be added without undue hassle. While DHS was not specific about the concerns that prompted the laptop ban, it’s believed to be connected to new types of thin, rubber-like explosive that can be hidden in laptops and tablets and not be detected by X-ray machines. Swabbing and testing laptops for explosives therefore makes sense from a safety and security perspective. As important, lithium battery-powered devices are no longer being placed in suitcases in the baggage hold where, as a new and chilling report by FAA shows, they pose a severe fire risk.

The US never should have put flights, passengers and crews in danger the way it did with the laptop ban. The new rules prove there was an alternative solution that properly balances security with safety.

Getting to this point took weeks of effort by the many industry experts who should have been consulted at the outset – before DHS suddenly imposed its laptop ban in March. But I am hearing that once dialogues began, DHS and TSA officials were genuinely willing to listen and work with the greater air transport community.

Personally, I am appreciative that I didn’t have to check a bag just because it needed to contain my laptop. A second passport verification and a laptop swab are very minor hassles that make easy trade-offs for passenger convenience and added security.

Common sense. It took DHS a few months, but it seems to have found some.

Karen Walker karen.walker@penton.com

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