THE UK’S two major trans-atlantic carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will foot the bill for sending on any uncharged mobiles or laptops as air security is ramped up amid fears of a terror attack.
Passengers using British airports have been told that all electronic devices must be charged to meet strict new anti-terror guidance issued by the Department for Transport (DfT).
The DfT has refused to say which flights in and out of the UK are subject to the new security checks – “for obvious reasons we will not be commenting in detail on the routes affected”.
Travellers now face the choice of either missing their flight or having their gadgets confiscated before boarding if they fail to switch them on and prove they are not packed with explosives.
The new guidelines have been set out in response to the US Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) decision this week to not allow mobile phones – especially the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy – on to planes bound for America if the devices are not charged.
Initially, Virgin said passengers deciding to fly without their uncharged devices would have to pay for the cost of sending the devices to a chosen address. But later it reviewed its policy and the airline has confirmed that it will return devices to customers without levying a fee.
Royal Mail has stated it “will deliver all packages that meet the correct posting and packaging requirements” but that devices with lithium batteries are subject to restrictions and batteries “must be contained” within a device.
The two airline carriers are advising passengers of a range of options if they are not able to comply, when requested, with the new regulations.
BA said: “Customers can ask to be rebooked on a later service. If you wish to carry on the item as part of your hand luggage, you will need to ensure the device can be charged ahead of your rebooked flight. Alternatively, customers can leave the device behind … the item can be collected on your return or forwarded to an address.”
Virgin Atlantic said it “fully complies with all government aviation security requirements and we have a robust process that is under constant review and can be adapted should there be a need to do so”.
It is understood the move follows intelligence that al-Qaeda members in Syria and Yemen may have developed bombs that can be hidden in mobile phones, with a view to bringing down US-bound planes.
Ryanair said it did not expect the new regulations to “have any effect on short-haul flights within Europe”.
Asked how the new measures were affecting Edinburgh Airport, a spokeswoman said: “We are operating as normal. Security staff continue to maintain high levels of vigilance and ensure current security measures are implemented fully and conscientiously. These include screening and checking electronic devices.”
Experts have predicted the introduction of airport anti-terror checks on electronic devices could mean a gadget-free future for air passengers.
Professor Mike Jackson, an expert in computer science at Birmingham City University’s Business School, said: “The new airport rules could put an end to the ingenuity of the terrorist.
“However, we should be prepared for terrorists to learn of new ways of hiding explosives in electronic devices in such a way that they continue to work.
“If this proves to be the case, air passengers in the future will have to travel without their gadgets.”
Three years ago, a bomb sent from al-Qaeda in Yemen was found on a plane at East Midlands airport, disguised inside a printer.
In the airline security business, they call such explosives Artfully Concealed Devices – sophisticated bombs, mostly non-metallic with a hard-to- detect, “low-vapour explosive” inside ordinary, harmless items.