Laptops and the TSA

The New York Times tries to make sense of the TSA's policies on computers. Why do you have to take your tiny laptop out of your bag, but not your iPad? Their conclusion: security theater.

Posted on April 9, 2012 at 7:45 AM • 53 Comments

Comments

JaanosApril 9, 2012 10:59 AM

I thought it's primarily the size - so that something interesting cannot be hidden in it. I'm sure my 5 year old laptop with extra external battery (looks as a weird stand) will always get an extra look while on the conveyor.

Secondarily, the familiarity - all the iPads are the same (within a generation), and they are very common, so in theory, it's easy to spot any funny additions to it, even when buried in a busy suitcase.

Though I cannot ignore the proposition that if all iPad bearing humans are put to the same inconvenience than all the businessmen lugging along their laptops, the TSA would become even less popular.

LSApril 9, 2012 11:07 AM

If it's intended as theatrics, then they need to hire better script writers.

I certainly feel LESS secure with my laptop(s) exposed and alone in a bin as I wait on the far side of the X-ray belt from my things in opt-out limbo.

Captain ObviousApril 9, 2012 11:10 AM

+1 for netbooks. The sign says to remove all LAPTOPS, sir.

I wonder if any FAA pentesters have done any work on charlie quattro 'battery' cells.

Gavin WardApril 9, 2012 11:20 AM

I am in rare disagreement with Bruce about this one. I can see a logic to what they're doing and the key to the dilemma lies here:

"The T.S.A. wouldn’t comment, obviously, on whether laptops are better carrying cases for bombs".

Well, the TSA doesn't want to go on record as saying so for the usual arse-covering reasons but laptops are very clearly better carrying cases for bombs.

They are a sealed box that can't be opened up for inspection - not without the risk of causing serious annoyance to its owner at least. If you bring a lovingly gift-wrapped present through airport security, they won't hesitate to make you unwrap it but as far as I'm aware, taking laptops apart is not the done thing.

If you accept that US airports are full of bad people trying to smuggle bombs on planes in very creative ways (and I obviously don't accept that for a minute and I know Bruce doesn't either, but their raison d'etre is based on this premise) then what they are doing makes some degree of sense.

As anyone who has ever opened a laptop up knows, there is a fair amount of free space in there, even in a netbook. They have fans and vents and free space is left for air to flow through. The same cannot (yet) be said of iPads or smartphones.

There are full-size laptops with two 2.5" drive bays, one of which could be empty. There are batteries that could have two thirds of their cells removed and replaced with semtex and the laptop would still work just fine if inspected.

There are so many circuit traces, ribbon cables and other wires that have a reason to be there that it would take a trained eye to spot a few that aren't supposed to be there because they're part of a bomb.

Now that tape and CD walkmen have gone out of fashion, you could argue they are possibly the only thing that someone might want to bring on a plane as a matter of course that has enough space to fit a viable bomb into.

An ipad is densely-packed and monolithic in design. You pull enough circuit board out of an iPad to leave room for a bomb and you will no longer have a working iPad. It will also possibly look like it's been opened up. As well, every iPad should look substantially the same when x-rayed. The same can't be said for the hundreds of different makes and models of laptop on the market.

So once again, if you accept the idea that the best way to stop bombs being taken on planes is to scrutinise everything brought onto the plane that could feasibly have a bomb in it, then this policy makes sense.

The question is would these TSA x-ray monkeys know the difference between an unmodified netbox and a netbook with a drive bay that's half SSD and half semtex?

If not, well THEN, sure, they're wasting people's time. But hopefully they're at least trained to see people sweating when they're asked to remove their laptop from their bag and the x-ray conveyor belt pauses with it inside.

JohnPApril 9, 2012 11:32 AM

I have a tablet with a USB keyboard connected in a portfolio-like faux-leather case. This confused the screener at Atlanta's airport 2 weeks ago. When asked what the problem was, she said I didn't remove a laptop from my daypack. She didn't make a big deal out of it, just re-ran it through the x-ray again when I said it was a tablet.

In Prague, I was picked for the "extra security screening" coming back to NYC-JFK. The first screen happened in front of all the other passengers. The only differences was that I was escorted by an airline worker and a 50+ yr old Czech man grabbed parts of my body that only my Dr and wife touch - in public. It was not a highlight of the trip. Then they took me to a private area about 10 feet away and did exactly the same checks again, behind a curtain with 2 other passengers and about 5 security people. The 20-something blond man grabbing my "parts" was attractive, but I don't swing that way. Again, it wasn't not a highlight.

I felt extremely violated.

If anyone has to go through this once, then **every** senator, congress-person, diplomat, ambassador, President, Queen, King, needs to go through it every time too. This is a violation of the highest level.

In Prague, I pulled the tablet/keyboard out for the first screening - and was told not to bother - I did anyway.

In both situations the pack had an empty aluminum water bottle inside AND a completely dry camelbak reservoir in it too. There was a digital camera and GPS inside too. I like to hike.

Coming into JFK from Prague, I didn't see any x-ray machines at all. The customs and immigration workers seemed bored by my paperwork. One of them just had me say my name ... I think he was looking for an accent to decide if I needed more screening or not. I have a midwest American accent - basically, no accent. He wanted my first name too - John. Guess I passed.

In JFK, we had to get to a different terminal for a connecting flight, so getting screened again by that security was necessary. Belt, shoes, hold my pants up, tablet/keyboard out ... I switched lines twice and got through relatively quickly. I was the last to get into the scan area in my party. My 2 travel buddies were in different lines. One finished about 3 minutes after me and the other was 15 - YES 15 minutes - later. We are all experienced travelers.

I've never seen such poor efficiency for screening as in terminal 2 at JFK. The amount of time wasted was scary. I didn't see any signs explaining what was expected and there were a large number of non-English speakers. The number of paid screeners just standing around, not helping explain the steps to customers or doing anything useful, was terrible. I overheard one of them complaining about their boss and that he wasn't paid enough for this stuff. The woman in front of me had film canisters - like movie film - and wanted a manual check. The guy working the head of the my line stepped up and helped her get that handled. He was efficient and courteous - a credit to the team.

The good things about this trip were
* none of our bags were lost and they were usually first of the plane and waiting
* I didn't have to go through any of the new scanners - just metal detectors.

I'm hardly a security expert. After all the scans, questions, groping, and inconveniences traveling overseas, I found the screening on the way out to be much greater than on the way back. Traveling around Europe in trains and cars didn't appear to have any screening at all. The groping still bothers me - they did find my chapstik. Wow.

It feels like security theatre to me. I'm old enough to recall getting on an airplane, taking the seat I want, paying cash to someone while sitting in the seat, not having to give my name or have a reservation and flying to my destination. I think the beer was free after 5pm too. I miss those days.

Living is dangerous. Get over it folks. I say let anyone that wants to bring an 8 inch knife on a plane. Then we'll have 50 people ready to take a terrorist out. I bet we'd all be more polite too.

John CampbellApril 9, 2012 12:03 PM

There was a reference in the commentary following the article about a mid-1990s movie wherein the laptop was the plot device to get a bomb onto a plane.

Hmmmm...

While Bruce might have a lock on the term "Security Theater", the "Movie Plot Threat", sadly, has prior art.

(shakes head)

It won't be long before we travel long distances the way Bruce Willis did in "The Fifth Element"... and, truly, sleeping through a trip sounds *wonderful*. (Granted, I am 58 y/o so the idea of a "nap" has its own attractions.)

TSA: Totally Surrendering America.
DHS Doesn't Have Sense.

SnallaBolagetApril 9, 2012 12:18 PM

As a rare exception, the TSA actually didn't come up with this first. The taking laptops out of bags idea came from screeners and supervisors themselves (in the EU) who thought having to recheck bags that contained PCs slowed down the process too much.
The reason is that due to their size and metal contents, laptops obscure too much of a bag's content, and it's actually a perfect container for a bomb, containing, potentially, a power source and timer already. Lacking only the "BOOM" as the TSA likes to put it.

Article on the rule:

http://snallabolaget.com/?p=1934

QnJ1Y2UApril 9, 2012 12:47 PM

@Gavin Ward

> ... and you will no longer have a working iPad.

Is that even a concern for a bomber? From the TSA blog:

Our officers don’t even turn computers on during inspection.
I haven't seen anyone asked to power on devices in my recent airport visits.

MailmanApril 9, 2012 1:51 PM

"As anyone who has ever opened a laptop up knows, there is a fair amount of free space in there, even in a netbook. They have fans and vents and free space is left for air to flow through. The same cannot (yet) be said of iPads or smartphones."

I can see why the empty space argument might make sense to compare iPads and laptops, but there is plenty of space in an SLR camera and yet I've never seen an airport security employee who asked me to demonstrate that my camera was in working condition.

Paul RenaultApril 9, 2012 1:52 PM

I haven't seen anyone asked to power on devices in my recent airport visits.

Ditto. In the Canadian airports I've flown in the past 4-5 years, they vacuum the keyboard through a filter and then put the filter in another device to sniff for chemicals.

Still wouldn't use 'Mercan airports.

AndrewApril 9, 2012 1:56 PM

Without going into technical detail: laptop bombs exist. Historically, there are several features of a laptop that make them especially easy to convert to IEDs. Cracking open an iPad or Nook, it is a lot harder to put back together again and a lot less room for nastiness inside.

However, read this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1324948/...

Setting the Wayback Machine to the 1970s, a relative was traveling in Germany while the Baader-Meinhof gang was active. He was asked to prove that his camera worked. When he turned to take a picture of the nice policeman, another nice policeman racked the bolt on his submachine gun and said, "Take picture of wall, please."

The threat then: camera guns. http://home.earthlink.net/~dannygoodwin/22.html

We're always adapting to yesterday's threat. Laptops, cameras . . . when we should be thinking about flash sticks and vials.

martinoApril 9, 2012 2:00 PM

Here's an idea - no clue if it'd work but I'd be curious to know it's liklihood...scan an ipad in xray and use that as a guide to inlay an xray visible image of that in the lid thingy (y'know, take a picture of the xray'd image and somehow make the ipad or laptop even scan that way even if the guts are gone). Of course, this is about as probable of happening as creation by explosion (wink) but it'd be cool to try :)

stvsApril 9, 2012 2:02 PM

Why do you have to take your tiny laptop out of your bag, but not your iPad?

Why do you have to turn off your iPad or Kindle during takeoff and landing?

Pilots love the iPad as the "ultimate cockpit resource," as Plane & Pilot Magazine puts it, and there are many professional apps to serve pilots during a flight. So pilots can use iPads while passengers are asked to turn off all devices.

Safety theater is security theater's little sister.

J. Brad HicksApril 9, 2012 2:32 PM

If memory serves - and it may not, this was a long time ago - the "laptop rule" was a security briefing that was released after some seized al Qaeda documents had a plan for a purely-hypothetical "laptop bomb."

If I'm right, then the reason you can carry a tablet in your carry-on is because nobody in al Qaeda has published a plan for a tablet bomb, and the reason you can carry an e-reader in your carry-on is because nobody in al Qaeda has published a plan for a Kindle bomb, and the reason you can ...

EdT.April 9, 2012 2:37 PM

Our officers don’t even turn computers on during inspection.

Oh, but they used to. Remember once, when I had to power mine up, and the fool thing decided it was time to run *a full chkdsk* - the screener asked me to turn it off, and I had to tell him no, that would destroy the unit. We sat there for like 30 min, with the line at a complete standstill, until it finished.

They *never* asked me to turn my laptop on again.

~EdT.

Carl "Bear" BussjaegerApril 9, 2012 2:55 PM

Back in the '80s and '90s, security in European airports stated it flatly: They wanted see laptops and luggables powered up so they knew there were real batteries and electronics in the compartment and not explosives; it was a volume issue (they'd look inside other items for the same reason). I suspect that the TSA insisted on laptop checking (theoretically) for much the same reason, and failed to update for technology. Now, they aren't about to back off on a "security" check, because they fear that would make them _look_ weak on security, appearances being everything.

So... short answer: Yep, security theater.

I haven't flown commercially since 2000. Do they actually make you turn the laptops on (when I did fly, I never had to do that in an American airport), or do they just look at the exterior say, "Uh huh, looks like a computer to me"?

AdrianApril 9, 2012 3:14 PM

Mailman wrote: "plenty of space in an SLR camera and yet I've never seen an airport security employee who asked me to demonstrate that my camera was in working condition."

In pre-9/11 days, I often traveled with multiple SLR camera bodies and lenses in a padded backpack. They almost always insisted on a hand inspection of the backpack after it went through the x-ray. Once I was asked to attach each lens to each camera body and let the security person peer through the view finder. They also asked me to trip the shutter with the back of the camera open.

Christian KratzerApril 9, 2012 3:18 PM

Years back around 2002 airport security in Europe found a long missing screwdriver in the depths of my laptop bag.

They said I could not take it on board so I proceeded to separate the screwdriver into the handle and the bit. I then presented the question which part I could keep and which part not.

To my surpise they wanted the bit and allowed me to keep the handle which would still be a blunt but dangerous stabbing weapon.

I left both of them at the airport lost and found desk and collected them on the way back.

I think this points out the craziness in whats a screwdriver and what's a laptop.

I can imagine that on the same day someone else could have gotten through with the bit and we would have recombined the handle and the bit to the screwdriver post security....

JohnstonApril 9, 2012 4:26 PM

Meanwhile there were 80 or more vehicular deaths today in the USA and over 30,000 per year. Ten times 9/11. Better reorganize our entire political system and national consciousness -- we're either for us or we're against us.

And give me that cupcake or you're under arrest.

Clive RobinsonApril 9, 2012 6:01 PM

@ stvs,

Why do you have to turn off your iPad or Kindle during takeoff and landing

The simple answer is history and CYA.

Years ago aircraft systems were extreamly sensitive to EM fields. However modern instruments a very very great deal less.

Likewise the electronics of passengers back then carried were mainly portable radios (this was pre-walkman era) and the local oscillators in those were neither screened or harmonicaly pure and thus were a real source of interferance (this was pre-EMC days).

Even though avionics and screening are way way better these days and portable electronics don't radiate EM fields you can pick up a couple of miles away, the number of portable electronics is way way beyond any single agencies ability to test individually or together.

Thus the ban stays in place, and this should also apply to any pilots or other airline staff.

That said we know from practical tests done at one point or another and accidents that the likes of mobile phones have little or no effect and likewise NBFM VHF walkie talkies putting out in excess +37dBm.

There are however known problems of aircraft over flying VHF broadcast sites where pilots have heard interferance breaking through on air traffic control etc frequencies. And this may cause other issues due to the mixing effect of multiple high level signals in receiver front ends and other sensitive electronics.

AntonApril 9, 2012 6:04 PM

There could be another more benign explanation, for example that some politician or TSA official has a lot of shares in Apple.

Smee JenkinsApril 9, 2012 6:08 PM

I always heard that it was due to the x-ray machines and electronics.

The insides of your average laptop is a sea of electronic bits: resistors, capacitors, chokes, routing traces, chips. On an x-ray machine, this looks like white noise, and it obscures anything else in the bag. Hence they ask you to scan it separately.

The insides of your average iPad: nothing like this. The "motherboard" of an iPad is the size of a stick of gum; most of what's in the iPad case is battery. So I'd imagine that it's not such a problem to leave in your bag.

Jim P.April 9, 2012 7:39 PM

It's done this way because it is ritual behavior. Once, long ago, someone probably said "Hey, someone might smuggle a bomb in a laptop" and from ever after, laptops had to be taken out of their thin nylon bags which somehow magically blocked x-rays.

And all TSA staff magically became electronic engineers, capable of discerning if something had been tampered with within the shadowy confines of every laptop ever made, except:

The first laptops with solid-state drives almost didn't make it through security because they violated the ritual behavior on how something should look.

Even after a demo of what it was and did, there was much confusion.

If it does not look like what they are told it must look like it is evil. And these are people about as bright as a villager who has only recently seen electricity for the first time.

These are mostly rote-trained people who are not chosen or rewarded for their ability to think and make discerning judgements.

That is why you never see one being censured no matter how absurd their reason for disallowing something might be. In fact, I suspect that is the path to promotion and rewards as it shows "initiative". That's why you always see the ritual phrase "due to an abundance of caution" when someone tries to explain the latest outrage on a free people.

There are now "TSA-approved" bags, from which in theory you do not need to remove your laptop. Good luck with that.

Like the "permitted items" list, it exists only to placate people who think TSA overreaches their authority.

*Everything* is subject to the whim of the "officer" checking you out and if he or she says it doesn't go, it doesn't go, or *you* don't go.

I would be curious to find out if there is any significant override of those calls by the supervisors. I will wager it is not statistically significant as there seems to be an internal code that says no officer will *ever* be contradicted in these decisions publicly.

MegaZoneApril 9, 2012 9:17 PM

I've flown with my ASUS Transformer Prime Android tablet and connected keyboard dock - and they didn't make me take it out of the bag. How is it any different from a netbook or laptop?

Definitely security theater.

Jonathan WilsonApril 9, 2012 10:59 PM

There is a show on Australian TV called "Border Security" which is basically a fly-on-the-wall look at the goings on in customs, immigration and security at several major Australian international airports.

The episode I saw the other day involved a laptop which looked strange on the x-ray and when disassembled was found to have prohibited items concealed within it.

Given that there is actual evidence of laptops being used to conceal stuff and given that it can be much harder to see everything when looking at the whole bag on an x-ray vs looking at just the laptop, I dont think its unreasonable to request people take the laptops out of the bag.

As for why laptops and not tablets, there is a lot less space inside a tablet for stuff to be concealed in and also tablets are easier to properly see on the x-ray because they are thinner and have less electronics inside to obscure the x-ray view.

ZegaMoneApril 9, 2012 11:00 PM

Excuse me, is that a Raspberry Pi in your rectum or are you just happy to see me?

GeorgeApril 9, 2012 11:14 PM

The reporter's real mistake was to expect logic in either the TSA's rules or their enforcement. There is no logic. Or if there was ever any (classified) logic to the (secret) rules that mysteriously emerge from behind the locked doors of TSA Headquarters, it's inevitably lost to inconsistent enforcement of inconsistently interpretation by inconsistently trained officers of inconsistent intelligence whose inconsistent whims carry the Force of Law at airport checkpoints.

Fortunately, as long as there are travelers who fervently want to believe that theatrical performance at checkpoints keeps them safe, security will be effective. The TSA's insistence on secrecy and "trust us" only enhances that effectiveness. As long as the government appears to be doing something about terrorism, it doesn't matter whether what they are doing actually provides any protection. Mere belief is enough for most Americans to justify the increasing sacrifice of their rights and privacy to uniformed officials.

GopiballavaApril 9, 2012 11:35 PM

The first laptop I travelled with was a PowerBook 520. It could fit two batteries, but I only owned one. The industrial design of the laptop was such that you couldn't easily tell where the batteries would go. It shipped with a dust cover, covering up a massive empty space.

If you put superglue on the dust cover latch, anybody who didn't know the machine design wouldn't know you were hiding something.

SeanApril 10, 2012 12:27 AM

If it's about size then rename the iPad to iBang as gutted, it could easily carry a plane removal system of great efficiency. Since you're not required to pull it out, turn it on or prove there're no weird wires hanging out for detonation purposes, I think we've found the TSA's next security hole.

DavidApril 10, 2012 7:46 AM

@clive

@ stvs,
Why do you have to turn off your iPad or Kindle during takeoff and landing

The simple answer is history and CYA.

The more obvious answer is "paying attention." In general, the only time a plane could be in serious danger (and require a rapid evacuation) is when it's close to the ground - and that is essentially around the times of take-off and landing.

During these times, the crew would prefer they have your total attention if it is needed - which they won't get if your nose is buried in your iDevice with personal listening equipment stuffed in your ears.

Thus they want you to turn everything off and disengage all your listening equipment.

The trick of course is to plug their earpieces into your own device, should you not want to hear any emergency announcements!

SkepticApril 10, 2012 9:42 AM

On another blog I've detailed the volume of the user-accessible empty space on a widescreen Dell Latitude in the media dock and battery compartment.

As a further data point, when completing my PhD I never traveled without a thick bundle of journals and articles to read. My bag was always hand-inspected after the x-ray because this obscured too much of the contents. I cannot imagine that the widescreen laptop computer would obscure any less. I don't expect to see signs soon saying "remove your thick bundle of obscure academic journals and place it separately on the conveyor" any time soon, because they don't get too many people like me -- It is much more efficient to just deal with it as it comes up.

PaeniteoApril 10, 2012 10:39 AM

@David: "During these times, the crew would prefer they have your total attention if it is needed"

That sounds really hard to believe since you are still allowed to read a book or even *sleep*...

Dave XApril 10, 2012 11:54 AM

I don't understand the threat model.

What is a terrorist supposed to do with an explosive laptop that he can't do with 4x100ml bottles of freedom-baggied TATP and a blasting cap shoved up where the backscatter doesn't shine?

If the goal is to blow up the plane without a hijack attempt, the uninspected baggie weak link in the security chain seems sufficient.

If it's to hold up a countdown timer on a 17" diagonal screen in an attempt scare people and allow a hijack of the plane, he can do that just as well with a non-exploding laptop, tablet, ipad, or phone.

Or he could use any of those non-exploding items to set off a bluetooth-enabled blasting cap in a freedom baggie bomb.

I think the rule is to give the screeners something to bark about and maybe make the visual screening less visually confusing.

terrysbApril 10, 2012 12:37 PM

Anything that TSA explicitly and regularly searches defeats the purpose of the search. Even though the searches provide marginal security at the wrong place and time - at best; it would be better to simply search things at random. For example, in the morning they could search books (a bomb could be hidden there), in the afternoon they could search eyeglass cases, and then randomly throughout the day they could search other stuff. Also, if they confiscate anything then I feel that they must make arrangements to return the item to it's owner - either gate check or have it available for pickup somewhere. Even cops have to return stuff they take.

NobodySpecialApril 10, 2012 4:39 PM

Stupidity does predate the TSA.
In the old days of the mid-90s (before terrorism?) laptops were rarer and you often had to turn yours on to show that it was real and not a bomb.

So I turned on my linux laptop, it did the bios bit and came up at a text login prompt.

"No - you have to turn it on fully"
"Fully?"
After a bit of confusion I worked out what he meant, logged in, typed "startx" and he saw the little mouse cursor move around and was happy

His training in foiling international terrorism had obviously consisted of begin shown a windows PC and told "that's a computer = it's allowed if it does that"

GabrielApril 10, 2012 8:27 PM

@NobodySpecial: that'll teach you to run xdm/kdm/gdm next time. What would they have done if you were running a legacy DOS laptop around that time? (I don't know if you were referring to mid or late 90's). Even better, start a gnome 1.x or early 2.x session as root, where your wallpaper would have pictures of bombs to let you know you were running in a dangerous fashion.

SinoApril 10, 2012 9:59 PM

It's not theater. It's poorly thought out policies that are reactive, not proactive. They'll wait until a plot using an ipad materializes, then start searching them

FigureitoutApril 10, 2012 11:13 PM

We're always adapting to yesterday's threat. Laptops, cameras . . . when we should be thinking about flash sticks and vials.

@Andrew

I agree...sort of...except when we start adapting to threats of the future, everything is a threat. Paranoia to the n'th degree will rule out. Yet..if you observe nature, animals (tweaky little birds especially) are always on the lookout for threats. Some animals sleep with one eye open, others have highly sensitive eyes and ears that give them a chance to escape and evade threats to their lives.

I want to make this very clear, and most (especially on this site) can see where this is headed...mandatory strip-search body-cavity inspections...

Laugh now...bend over and spread the cheeks later...What do you have to hide?

D0RApril 11, 2012 2:21 AM

I passed through security in an Italian airport lately. This is the same airport that has you remove belt and shoes (not always; only in certain periods, presumably when alerts are high or the moon is in a particular phase).
I had a netbook and an iPad in my bag. The security guy had me remove the netbook, put it in another tray and pass both netbook and bag again through X-Rays.
He didn't notice the iPad at all (or he did and thought it wasn't a big deal).

DaveApril 11, 2012 8:01 AM

It is all security theatre. I was going to mention the potential deadly improvised weapon that almost all laptop users bring onboard aircraft. But that would be silly.

perlmasterApril 11, 2012 8:07 AM

It also depends on how much you pay... my experience: In economy, I had to turn of my ipod during landing, in business class nobody cared. happened several times.
go figure.

BApril 11, 2012 1:55 PM

in 1985, laptops were especially rare - doubly so behind the Iron Curtain.

my purchase, fresh from West Germany, was dismantled completely by Czechoslovakian authorities, and then expertly reassembled. the entire process took approximately two hours.

it wasn't a bomb check as much as a "what the Hell is THAT coming into our socialist paradise??"

(the Austrians didn't care as much.)

BApril 11, 2012 1:58 PM

sorry, it was 1988.

laptops were very rare on the entire planet in 1985.

1985 was the CD player :) It was not given nearly as much scrutiny.

Erik V. OlsonApril 12, 2012 4:14 AM

The simple answer is history and CYA.

More than that.

1) Practicality: Trying to test devices, and then distribute a list, was basically impossible. The reason that they're now willing to allow iPads in cockpits is that there is a very limited number of models to test -- and I think they didn't test all of them, but I'm not certain on that.

Using iPads to handle the large stacks of frequently updated airport and routing information (here's the stack for KORD) is a clear win -- esp. if connected to an app that puts a big "THESE ARE OUT OF DATE" warning up. People have died flying on out of date charts many times.

They are talking about allowing iPads and Kindles (also, limited model) so you can test the entire set and let the FAs know that if it's an Apple iPad or an Amazon Kindle, then it's okay. However, if you end up with hundreds of models, and some of them are problematic, then it becomes a practical nightmare. Regardless, there's also issue #2..

2) Paying Attention. Yes, flying is a vastly safer way to travel. However, the most dangerous times for flying are taxi, takeoff and landing. The idea of "baggage stowed, tray tables stowed, seats upright, electronics off" is that the aisle is clear and you can hear the flight crew if needed.

I'll admit that it's annoying, but really, if I can't live without my iPad for 10 minutes, then, seriously, am I living at all?

John BeatyApril 12, 2012 8:28 AM

Clive Robinson: "Years ago aircraft systems were extreamly sensitive to EM fields. However modern instruments a very very great deal less."

Older instruments were far less sensitive to EMF, and older computers etc generated far more stray EMF than anything even remotely comparable today.With smaller and more sensitive components, the reverse of what you imply should be true, but better design has led to lower EMF sensitivity (higher stray EMF rejection) overall.

Erik V. Olsen, your first point is plausible, but unsupported by any studies or published reports. Your second point would be valid if, as has been repeatedly pointed out, books etc. were also banned at critical junctures.

MeApril 15, 2012 10:24 PM

@David: "During these times, the crew would prefer they have your total attention if it is needed"

Ever flown first class? The flight attendance don't give a $@(/- what you do. Use your laptop the entire time? Sure. No seatbelt? What seatbelt? You want more free booze? Go ahead. I even set next to a guy using a USB modem to connect to gogo on a non wifi equipped plane.

Dr.ShemApril 16, 2012 5:34 AM

Had exactly the same experience as all of you. I completely support bag x-ray machines, metal detectors, the explosive residue and contraband swab, the customs sniffer dogs and even annoying questioning, but I draw the line when common sense is shoved aside by bureaucratic red tape.

Actually, I wrote a summary of the whole saga According to the TSA an iPad is not a Computer

It is ridiculous what the world and the travel experience has come to.

prasadApril 17, 2012 6:33 AM

I always thought this was because, laptops can camouflage any other 'freaky' devices (circuits triggers for bombs). Guess I was wrong in this assumption.

Eric HApril 19, 2012 9:16 PM

Re: the "whole turn it on" thing.

I always thought it was a crock. Anyone with the resources to put a reasonable bomb into a laptop should also be able to program and install a microcontroller that can simulate a Windows boot sequence. I mean, seriously, they don't think you could put one of these into one of those Alienware luggables? That might take a tiny screwdriver set to pull off.

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