New ‘security interviews’ to begin for fliers on U.S.-bound flights

USA Today

Travelers on international flights to the United States may face longer check-in and boarding queues this week as new U.S. security requirements kick in.

A set of new security measures for U.S.-bound flights takes effect Thursday, part of an effort by the Department of Homeland Security to scrutinize electronics brought onboard commercial airliners.

Ahead of that deadline, at least four large global carriers said they have started new “security interviews” for all passengers on U.S.-bound flights. Those airlines said that has come at the request of the U.S. Other global airlines that fly to the U.S. will likely do the same.   

The changes come after a previous ban the U.S. imposed on carry-on laptops and other electronics from certain airports in Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. The ban was instituted in March but was unwound by July following new U.S. security requirements.

Airlines were given a 120-day deadline to meet all of the new regulations. That deadline arrives Thursday, likely leading to the warnings by global carriers of the new security procedures.

Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group representing most of the largest carriers, said airlines are working with the Department of Homeland Security to achieve the shared goals of enhancing security while minimizing the impact on travelers.

“While these are complex security measures, the flexibility provided by DHS has helped to ensure that carriers remain compliant,” Jennings said. “As always, the safety and security of passengers and crew is the highest priority for U.S. airlines and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of security are in place throughout the industry.”

A spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents airlines worldwide, said:

“The new measures raise the bar on aviation security. They have required a significant amount of work on the part of airlines and airports. TSA has demonstrated flexibility and a willingness to work with industry to achieve the goals of the new measures.  Over the longer term  there needs to be a greater focus on mutual recognition of states’ measures and more of a risk-based approach when choosing locations for enhanced security measures.”

Among global airlines, Dubai-based Emirates said passengers flying to the U.S. on its flights would now face “pre-screening interviews” at its check-in counters for passengers. Also affected would be fliers connecting to the U.S. via its hub in Dubai. The carrier has advised customers to allow extra time for both check-in and boarding.

“These measures will work in complement with the current additional screening measures conducted at the boarding gate,” Emirates said in a statement.

Lufthansa, which has one of the biggest U.S. presences among European airlines, offered similar guidance.

“In addition to the controls of electronic devices already introduced, travelers to the U.S.A. might now also face short interviews at check-in, document check or gate,” Lufthansa said in a statement.

Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong offered a similar advisory, adding fliers checking in without bags may face similar interviews at the gate.

EgyptAir also issued an advisory to its fliers ahead of the Thursday deadline, with other airlines likely to do the same.

Homeland Security, which includes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), announced the measures on June 28 to better detect explosives hidden in electronics and to thwart airport workers from smuggling bombs onto planes. At the time, the agency described the measures a new baseline for worldwide aviation security.

Steps included enhanced screening of passengers and electronic devices, as well as heightened security standards for aircraft and airports.

“As we move forward, TSA will continue to work closely with our aviation partners and verify that all security enhancements are accurately implemented,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. “As threats continue to evolve, we and our partners around the world, will continue to work together to improve intelligence sharing and standardize best practices, while also pursuing technological advancements that will make flying more secure for everyone.”

The measures apply to 180 airlines flying to the USA from 280 airports in 105 countries. About 325,000 people fly to the USA on 2,000 flights daily. DHS said in June that if airlines don’t meet the standards, they could face a laptop ban for carry-on and checked bags on flights to the U.S.

Domestically, Homeland Security’s TSA also has been ramping up security screening.

Travelers in standard TSA checkpoint lines at airports will have to remove all electronics larger than cellphones from carry-on bags and place them in a separate bin with nothing else above or below for X-ray screening. Travelers in Precheck lanes will be able to leave electronics in their bags as they now do with laptops.

TSA’s goal is to get a clearer view of belongings in the jumble of carry-on bags after intelligence suggested terrorists have found better ways to hide explosives in electronics.

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