October 27, 2017

On Thursday, October 26, the deadline for airlines to impose new security measures mandated by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for international flights to the United States went into effect. While the deadline received significant media attention, the new measures have not caused significant disruptions for travelers.

What are the new security measures?

For security reasons, DHS has not stated exactly what the new security measures that were to be implemented by Oct. 26 are. Media reports, however, indicate that airlines will ask passengers on affected flights to take all devices large than a mobile phone out of their bags for extra screening. Security officials may inspect electronic devices with bomb sniffing dogs or explosive swabs, and may ask travelers to turn on any devices.

Security officials will also conduct brief security interviews with each passenger, which typically last less than a minute. The security interviews typically ask passengers about who packed their bags, what is in their bags, their purpose for traveling, and about some details of their trip. The interviews are similar to those that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials conduct for travelers arriving in the United States.

These extra checks will likely be performed at the gate immediately before departure. Passengers may not be allowed to leave the immediate gate area while the security checks are going on. Some airlines may also conduct the security interviews at check-in. Airports with in-city check-in options such as Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) may not allow passengers on US-bound flights to use these options.

What flights do the new security measures apply to?

The new security measures were supposed to apply to all international flights to the US. Some airlines, however, have reported that DHS granted them an extension to the deadline, and that they will not have to implement the new security measures until January. The new security measures will not apply to domestic US flights.

What has the impact of the new measures been?

The new security measures have not caused significant disruptions for travelers. Several airlines and airports began implementing the new security measures several weeks before the Oct. 26 deadline, and travelers on affected flights reported minimal disruptions. While media outlets gave extensive coverage to the new security measures in advance of the Oct. 26 deadline, there have not been any media reports of widespread disruptions at airports since the deadline passed.

What should travelers do?

The new security measures are unlikely to have a significant impact on travelers, but airlines are advising that travelers on US-bound international flights arrive at the airport three hours early and proceed directly to their gate after they pass through the airport’s security checkpoint. The recommendation to arrive at the airport three hours early is an increase over the typical recommendation to arrive at the airport two hours early for an international flight.

Passengers should consider packing their large electronic devices in parts of their carry-on bags that are easily to access so they don’t have to go digging through their bags during the extra security checks. During the security interviews, passengers should answer the interviewers’ questions calmly and honestly, and should not be worried if they forget or don’t know the answers to any of the questions.

Passengers on non-US bound flights are unlikely to experience any disruptions from the extra security measures, as most of the extra security checks for US-bound flights will be conducted at the gate area.