☲☰CRYPTED
Editor’s Note: For most of us, the wide world of technology is a wormhole of dubious trends with a side of jargon soup. If it’s not a bombardment of startups and tech trends (minimum viable product, Big Data, billion dollar IPO!) then it’s unrelenting feature mongering (Smart Everything! Siri!). What’s a level-headed guy with a few bucks in his pocket supposed to do? We’ve got an answer, and it’s not a ⌘+Option+Esc. Welcome to Decrypted, a new weekly commentary about tech’s place in the real world. Writer Darren Murph, the former Managing Editor of Engadget and a Guinness World Record holder for number of blog posts published, will spend some weeks demystifying and others criticizing, but it’ll all be in plain english. So take off your headphones, settle in for something longer than 140 characters and prepare to wise up.

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s someone who routinely flies over 125,000 miles per year, I can say with some degree of certainty that the mobile technology scene has caused widespread friction with the aviation industry. Actually, I can say that with a lot of certainty. Despite the iPhone hitting the market in 2007, it wasn’t until late last year that you could use a smartphone during taxi, takeoff, and landing — assuming your carrier of choice took the requisite steps to allow it, that is. Years after most airlines ditched the in-seat telephone and planted an in-seat television in its place, the notion of making calls while north of 10,000 feet has also come up in discussion. But like just about everything else with flying, communication has taken a backseat to security concerns — and the TSA’s (often ambiguous) rules that hope to address potential attacks. Even the frequent flyer has to wonder what’s acceptable, what’s authorized, and what’s merely a talking point at the present moment.

That confusion ratcheted up a notch last week, as Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson directed the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) to “implement enhanced security measures at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States”. In a nutshell, the new edict means that travelers taking off from abroad en route to the United States may be asked to power their carry-on phones on for inspection. If the phone’s battery is depleted, you’ll either miss your flight or part ways with your exhausted handset.

Travelers taking off from abroad en route to the United States may be asked to power their carry-on phones on for inspection.

Interestingly, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have confirmed that they’ll foot the bill for mailing dead devices back to their owner in order to minimize flight cancellations, but one has to wonder (a) how long that’ll last and (b) how safe it really is to funnel a phone that wasn’t safe for flying into a mail system that involves thousands of people before a delivery takes place. Plus, I wouldn’t recommend relying on an airport security worker to have received the memo; are you really keen on handing over your phone to a perfect stranger and assuming it’ll be waiting at your doorstep when you return?

Precious little has been clarified since the announcement was made. While it was confirmed that “powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft”, it’s unclear if not-quite-dead phones that show a faint lightning bolt on their screen will be rejected as well. Furthermore, the United States has yet to declare which international airports are taking part in the new program. The United Kingdom has independently affirmed that it’ll be taking part (heads up if you’re heading stateside from London, Cardiff, Aberdeen, or Belfast), and I’d guess that any pre-clearance airports (Calgary, Aruba, Dublin, etc.) with TSA staff will now be on the lookout.

Are you really keen on handing over your phone to a perfect stranger and assuming it’ll be waiting at your doorstep when you return?

Given that I’d prefer you be safe rather than sorry (and that you not delay the security line for people like me behind you), here’s a breakdown of what you should remember before and during the boarding process as it applies to mobile phones.

1
Charge your phone and tablet before leaving, no questions asked. If you’ve got a dead phone, or a new-in-box phone that’s traveling as a gift, make absolutely certain that it’s in your checked luggage and not your carry-on luggage. Don’t play roulette with which airport will be checking and which will not.

2
Charge your laptop before leaving. It stands to reason that a laptop that won’t power on could be masking some greater threat (as in, there are explosives in place of circuit boards), so don’t put yourself in a position where your innocence could be questioned.

3
Once onboard, you’ll have to put laptops away as soon as the boarding door closes. However, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones can remain on and in your hand so long as Airplane mode is activated.

4
Smartphones are a whole lot less useful when forced offline, so make sure you’ve got Pocket (free for iOS and Android) installed — it’s an app that downloads saved web articles for offline reading, and a plane’s ascent and descent create perfect opportunities to catch up on reading that you haven’t yet had time to consume.

If you’re curious as to why this rule change has taken hold so suddenly, chew on this: U.S. officials have said it was enacted “amid concerns that Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamist Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, [were] plotting to blow up an airliner”. It’s perhaps far less shocking than it should be — we’re obviously desensitized to the ongoing war with the inexplicable — but until cooler heads prevail, expect the “We can’t take any chances!” card to be played liberally by the TSA.

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