July 8: Holidaymakers and business travellers who arrive at airport security with uncharged mobile phones or other electrical items will be stopped from boarding planes bound for the US and effectively treated like “terrorists”.
British Airways said passengers who failed to turn on devices when asked will be immediately banned from their US flight and have to reschedule, even if they offer to abandon the item or send it on separately.
Britain’s main airline warned that even a new device bought in the airport lounge after passing through security will have to be charged up or the passenger will not be allowed to board at the gate. Any transfer passenger whose device has gone flat on the first leg will also be prevented from their onward travel unless they can recharge first.
It is the toughest stance taken since America ordered extra security checks on direct flights amid fears al-Qaida has developed a new bomb that can evade current controls. It was announced on the ninth anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.
Turning on an electronic device can show a security screener that the laptop computer or mobile phone is a working device and that its batteries are not hidden explosives.
British Airways said its move was based on advice from the US authorities. However, the government only advised that a flat electronic device would not be allowed on the plane and made no mention of passengers themselves being refused travel. It raises the prospect of travellers who are told they cannot fly because their device is flat having their details passed to US security officials.
The move caused confusion at airports yesterday.
At Heathrow, airport staff were advising travellers that if they turn up at security with flat batteries they could go back to the departure lounge to charge them or post the device on to their destination.
One aviation expert said last night that the new regulations went much further than the restrictions imposed on liquids and gels after a major terror plot in 2006 and would create a “debacle” at airports.
Philip Baum, from the Green Light Aviation Security consultancy firm, said: “The terrorists must be sitting there laughing their heads off. We are going to be in a situation where people are having their bags taken off planes because their phone battery has gone dead.
“Everyone gets delayed and it is likely to increase the chances of having frustrated and disruptive passengers, which is the last thing operators want.
“Is anyone who has a flat battery now going to be seen as a terrorist?”
Airport security around direct flights to the US was stepped up last week amid fears that Ibrahim Hassan al — Asiri, the master bombmaker from al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has developed a new type of explosive.
Intelligence agencies are concerned that the terror group may be looking to use British and other Western jihadists in Syria and Iraq and suicide bombers.
US officials are particularly concerned that smartphones may be used in the new bomb threat and ordered over the weekend that passengers must show they can be switched on. The US Transportation Security Administration said devices that do not power up will not be allowed on planes and their owners may have to undergo additional screening.
The government and some airports, including Heathrow and Manchester, formally updated their official advice yesterday, asking travellers to make sure devices were charged before they arrive at check-in.
But on its website, BA said: “If your device doesn’t power up when you are requested to do so, you will not be allowed to fly to the US on your original service.
“Our customer services team will look after the rebooking of your travel arrangements.”