Boise among 10 U.S. airports testing new TSA bag-screening process for electronics

Travelers wait at the TSA security check area of the Boise Airport in this September 2016 Statesman file photo.
Travelers wait at the TSA security check area of the Boise Airport in this September 2016 Statesman file photo. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Travelers in Boise and nine other U.S. airports are being asked to place electronic devices bigger than a cellphone in separate bins so that they can be examined more closely.

The Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that it has been testing the procedure for more than a year, and a regional TSA spokeswoman said it has been in place at the Boise Airport for several weeks.

The program has been going smoothly in Boise, Lorie Dankers said, noting, “I cannot comment on changes in detection leveld.”

TSA officials say overstuffed bags take longer to examine with X-ray machines. The program is "an effort to de-clutter baggage," said agency spokesman Michael England.

There are no changes to what is allowed in carry-on bags, and people enrolled in the Precheck program can still leave laptops in their bags during screening, he said.

Dankers said the pilot program is part of the agency’s “approach of adjusting security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats.”

“Every-day items, including some foods, books and magazines, and certain electronics, can appear similar to explosives when going through the X-ray screening machine,” she said. “TSA is testing different ways to screen these items while maintaining a smooth traveler experience.”

Most travelers already must remove laptops from bags when they go through security checkpoints. In the test lanes at the 10 airports, they are no longer being allowed to lay machines on top of bags or with other electronic devices — each device must have its own bin.

Requiring travelers to spread their belongings among more bins could slow down the screening process. TSA said it is testing ways to make screening quicker and more targeted.

Unless the pilot program is expanded, most U.S. travelers will never experience it. Even if goes nationwide, it would be a far less dramatic change than the ban on laptops and tablets in the cabin of U.S.-bound planes from the Middle East and North Africa.

The TSA's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is considering expanding that ban to flights from Europe to the U.S. but has run into opposition from business travelers, airlines and European governments that fear it will create chaos and delays.

In addition to Boise, the new screening measures are being tested in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Detroit, Boston, Lubbock, Texas and San Juan, Puerto Rico.