Monday, 10 March 2008 18:09

Let the Traveller Beware - Laptops vs IATA Screening Regulations

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Let it not be said that there is consistency in the way airport-based screening is conducted.  When you take a PC to the airport, the Americans have a saying, “your mileage may vary!"

In a recent blog, programmer and Author Michael Nygard relates the sad but true but amusing tale (called “Steve Jobs made me miss my flight”)of how his brand-new MacBook Air cased him to be of sufficient interest to the security checking people that he missed his flight. 

To cut his long story short (read the whole tale on the link above), when his new machine went through the airport X-ray scanner at his departure airport, the staff had no idea what they were dealing with – how dare anyone have a laptop with no fixed disk, no ports.  Clearly this is not the expected cookie-cutter laptop; Nygard is in trouble!

Eventually, but not until after his flight has closed, Nygard convinces the rent-an-expert security scanners that a MacBook Air really *is* a laptop.  And a damned good one at that!

Forward to some examples closer to home.  Discussing such issues, one of my journalist associates recently acquired the new Asus Eee PC and I dared her to not take it from her briefcase at the X-ray scanner next time she flew.  She reported back to me a couple of days later, no problems at all – in her words, “Victory!”

Later in the same discussion, another colleague bemoaned the fact that he never seemed able to even get his external USB drive though without removing it from his laptop bag; generally after it had been in the bag for the first scan!

In my own case, my laptop always comes out of my bag, but my external drive never does.  Oh, and ONLY at Melbourne’s Virgin terminal do I take my collapsible umbrella out of my bag – they’re worse than New Delhi (and that’s a tough airport to get through!). 

Please read onto page 2.



One other thing – I have *finally* removed the ‘sacrificial screwdriver’ from my bag.  It went in there (as far as I can tell) in early 2000; from there, it flew from Australia to the US at least 6 times between 2002 and 2006, had around 40 or 50 flights within Australia and had never been discovered by any airport screener! 

All this before I finally discovered the beastie when I was moving my stuff into a new bag.  Hindsight being stronger than valour, I chose to preserve it from that time on as a desk ornament for posterity!

What do we learn here?

Unfortunately, not a lot.  The average traveller cannot determine the rules when they are not consistently applied. 

We are forced to be sheep because, most of all, we want to get to our destination without excessive interference or delay, while in our minds we are screaming “this is crazy – you’re achieving absolutely nothing.”

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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