Security upgrade: New airport rules mean X-rays for electronics

HARLINGEN — New security measures will greet airline passengers at two Valley airports beginning today.

For months, the Transportation Security Administration has been testing new inspection protocols for electronic devices in passenger carry-on bags at around 10 airports nationwide.

Today, X-Ray inspections of all electronic devices larger than your mobile phone will be mandatory when flying out of Valley International Airport or McAllen Miller International Airport. At Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport, the new rules have been in place since early this month.

“Intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation,” said TSA spokesperson Carrie Harmon. “We know that they are pursuing innovative methods to disrupt the aviation system by finding ways to smuggle explosive devices in various consumer items with the focus on electronics.

“And that’s why we’re rolling out these new rules across the country,” Harmon added.

In March, U.S. and British officials announced a ban on electronic items larger than a cell phone on some inbound flights from 10 predominately Muslim countries after intelligence reports indicated that Islamic State, the terror group known as ISIS, was attempting to develop technology to plant hidden explosives in a notebook computer.

Restrictions on those flights have since been lifted.

Some of the electronic items covered by the new TSA security measures are tablet and notebook computers, e-readers and netbooks, stereo speakers, cameras, video cameras and hard drives.

“You will bring out your laptops, place them in a bin by themselves, with nothing on top or underneath them like you’ve always done before,” said Anna de Leon, a TSA agent based in Harlingen.

“You can place as many items as you need to as long as there is no overlapping in the box of items,” de Leon added.

TSA officials concede the added security procedures may add some time to the check-in and boarding process. They encourage passengers to arrive 90 minutes before their flight departs from Valley International Airport.

Harmon, the TSA spokesperson, said the new procedures are not directly linked to any specific or imminent terror threat but are a response to a general threat to commercial aviation.

“TSA is constantly looking at security, and being both proactive and reactive, so this just raises the baseline on security,” she said. “We’re always looking at the threat environment.”

To help passengers to comply with the new inspection procedures, TSA officials say one of their agents will be positioned to provide assistance to passengers on the new requirements.

“In implementing these new procedures, we will have an officer designated to be in the front to help all the passengers,” de Leon said. “If they have any questions, please ask the officer there.”

The new security procedures eventually will be extended to nearly 280 airports in more than 100 countries, TSA officials say.

What has to be X-Rayed?

Tablet computers

Notebook computers

Hard drives

E-readers and netbooks

Stereo speakers

Cameras and video cameras

Label makers

What do I

have to do?

Passengers going through TSA security checks before boarding need to place all carry-on electronic devices bigger than a mobile phone in plastic bins to be X-Rayed. Multiple devices can be placed in a single bin, but they can’t overlap. Several plastic bins may be required.

What can I bring?

To determine what you can bring on an airline flight, either in carry-on luggage or in checked bags, go online to the TSA website here:

For items not listed on this webpage, you can snap a photo of the item or send a question to AskTSA on Facebook or Twitter between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern time, and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Answers usually arrive within 15 minutes.