(Bloomberg) -- U.S. airline travelers are facing more intense scrutiny of electronics at 10 domestic airports while the government also considers banning such devices on U.S.-bound flights from Europe.
For the past year, passengers at selected screening lanes have been asked to send large electronics including tablets through X-ray screening separate from their carry-on bags, the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday in an emailed statement. The stepped up screening may be extended nationwide, the agency said.
“TSA’s top priority is to protect the traveling public, and every policy and security procedure in place is designed to mitigate threats to passengers and the aviation sector -- which we know our adversaries continue to target,” the agency said in the statement.
The announcement comes as the government considers various measures to protect against what it suspects are growing capability by terrorist groups to hide explosives in smaller devices. Laptops are currently required to be scanned by X-rays separately, but people had been allowed to keep tablet computers and other electronic devices in their bags.
The Department of Homeland Security has been in talks with European Commission officials about extending a prohibition on electronic devices larger than mobile phones from passenger areas on U.S.-bound flights from Europe despite objections from other nations. The agency has barred the devices on flights from 10 Middle East and North African airports since March 21 out of fears that terrorists could hide explosives in them.
An agency spokesman said earlier Wednesday that it’s not actively considering expanding a ban of laptops and other electronics from airline cabins to flights leaving the U.S. or on domestic legs.
DHS Secretary John Kelly hasn’t reached a decision on whether to extend the ban to Europe, spokesman David Lapan said at a briefing. At least for the moment, there also is no consideration to expand it to flights departing from U.S. airports, either for international or domestic trips, Lapan said.
“We will make a decision in the best interest of the United States and given the secretary’s authority,” he said.
European officials met Tuesday in Washington with their DHS counterparts in what Lapan described as “technical level” discussions about a possible expansion.
DHS has insisted that DVD players, tablets and laptops be stowed in passengers’ checked bags and stowed in the cargo hold from the 10 Middle East and North African airports.
While many airlines are preparing for an expansion of such restrictions to flights from Europe to the U.S., the European Union has voiced concerns and the International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing 265 carriers, said it could cost travelers more than $1 billion.
The domestic test of increased focus on electronics is being conducted at airports serving Boise, Idaho; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Detroit; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Boston; Los Angeles; Lubbock, Texas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Las Vegas and Phoenix, TSA said.
The procedures are being tested at individual security lanes, so not all passengers at those airports may face the same scrutiny. TSA officers are assisting passengers with the new process.
Taking a device out of a bag gives a clearer picture on X-ray machines, according to the agency. If a tablet or other device is located in a bag, it can be difficult to see it clearly through the clutter.
Southwest Airlines Co. said in an emailed statement it hasn’t identified any security delays from the tests.