Why does airport security switch on your laptop?

Ever go through airport security on your way to some far flung destination, and despite doing everything they say – laptops out, belt off, you name it – suddenly you’re being called over to switch your laptop, tablet, or even phone on.

It’s one of those strange occurrences that appears to happen randomly, and certainly not to every passenger that passes through airport security with a laptop or other electronic device.

Laptops can conceal….

Taking your laptop out of a carry-on bag allows airport security to more easily check whether something like explosives could be concealed in the laptop.

One of the most well-known and earliest examples of technology being used in this way was the tape/cassette player used to bring down Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland (the Lockerbie Bombing) in 1989.

Taking laptops out of bags at airport security also gives security a better look at what’s in your bag, as laptops are large enough to potentially conceal weapons such as knifes.

However……..

Airport security agents are worried about laptops being used to conceal weapons.

Why switch them on?

Well, there’s only so much security officials and x-ray machines can pick up by looking at a laptop.

One way to make sure that an electrical item has not been turned into an explosive device, is simply to get a passenger to turn it on. After all, a laptop or tablet isn’t going to be functioning like it normally should, or at all, if it’s been turned into a make-shift bomb.

And there have been threats of laptop-type bombs in the past, with US intelligence claiming the terrorist organization Al Qaida have been working on a bomb that could take advantage of electronic devices, and go undetected through x-ray machines.

So why was your laptop chosen to be switched on?

That’s a little more tricky to answer. Each airport security team has it’s own “triggers” for what or who could be a potential threat. So it’s more you were picked out by the security, than the security picking out your laptop, though that can’t be confirmed.

Terrorist organizations are trying to find ways to use electronic devices to make explosive devices that would be almost undetectable going through airport security.

Electrical devices could be turned into bombs – that’s the main concern.

What if airport security asks to switch my laptop on, but the battery is dead?

This has happened quite a few times before, and it really depends on the airport security team. Often if you have the charger with you, airport security will allow you to plug it in – under their supervision – so that you can turn it on.

However there have also been cases where travelers have been refused through security due to their laptops not having any battery.

In fact in 2014 the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) said that “powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft,” on any direct flights to the USA, or from some overseas airports – though they haven’t specified which ones.

That TSA announcement doesn’t just cover laptops, but phones and any other devices you have.

So, if you want to definitely get that flight, make sure your electronic devices can be switched on.

If you don’t have any power on your laptop, tablet, or phone and you’re asked to switch it on by airport security – it may be just you and the airplane stairs left on the ground.