Keep Your Shoes On, TSA Plans to Relax Screening Requirements for Laptops

The agency is working on solving the "biggest complaint about the security screening process."

by / August 12, 2008

Since the tightening of security at the nation's airports following 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration doubled the suggested time passengers should allow to get from curbside to jetway. On top of that, the TSA imposed restrictions on a laundry list of seemingly harmless items which passengers could not carry onboard airplanes. Who hasn't had some small item taken away from them at security, which they may not have minded, but who were annoyed just the same?

But wait. Passengers may get a reprieve. After the tightening of restrictions on items allowed through security checkpoints, the TSA has made two small concessions travelers may welcome: Some laptops will be allowed to travel through security in their cases and passengers may be allowed to keep their shoes on.

The TSA screens laptops to see if the electronics inside have been tampered with. Screening personnel are trained to detect irregularities in the insides of a computer. That's why they need an unobstructed view as the laptop moves through the X-ray machine. Currently, passengers are asked to remove laptops from their cases in order to give screeners a clear view. Some problem solving by the TSA and luggage vendors may make that less necessary.

In March, the TSA asked bag manufacturers to come up with a design that would meet the following "checkpoint friendly" requirements:

  • A designated laptop-only section
  • The laptop-only section completely unfolds to lay flat on the X-ray belt
  • No metal snaps, zippers or buckles inside, underneath or on top of the laptop-only section
  • No pockets on the inside or outside of the laptop-only section
  • Nothing packed in the laptop-only section other than the computer itself.

Forty manufacturers submitted bag designs for testing. These bags, "provide a win-win for travelers and TSA," TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said.

The TSA expects the majority of new bags meeting these standards to be available for purchase in mid-August. A small percentage of bags currently on the market already meet these standards and include sleeve-like carrying cases without pockets or zippers. These bag types have been tested and can produce a clear, unobstructed image as long as nothing else is in the case, the TSA said.

However, the TSA warned that just having a checkpoint-friendly bag is not enough to guarantee a laptop will sail through security. How the bag is packed is also a factor. Laptops must not be packed with any other items on top of the laptop that may obstruct the X-ray image.

To assist TSA screening personnel in case a bag alarms, the bag should make it easy for the laptop to be removed in order to reduce the time the passenger has to wait, the TSA said. Bags should also be easily recognizable as a design that allows a clear X-ray image.

The TSA has not yet implemented procedures to allow for laptops to remain in bags. The agency plans to have the X-ray procedures in place later this summer.

Solving the "Biggest Complaint About the Security Screening Process"
As for that other nuisance -- having to take one's shoes off at the checkpoint -- screening personnel are testing new shoe-scanning technology that allows a passenger to walk fully shod through a security checkpoint.

Two units being tested at Los Angeles' LAX will be used to collect data and evaluate the technology. During testing, the shoe scanners will be positioned in front of the walk-through metal detector and passengers will still need to remove their shoes to go through the screening process - "the biggest complaint about the security screening process," the TSA said in a news release.

The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology division is also testing shoe scanners and will collaborate with TSA on the results.

TSA will use these units to conduct the testing and will continue to examine new technologies, like the shoe scanner, that can improve security and reduce hassle for travelers.