White House Tightens Airport Security Requirements For Foreign Flights

Jun 28, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Travelers flying to the U.S. will soon face extra security. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced a new set of requirements today for direct flights to the U.S. from about 280 airports around the world. Airlines that cannot meet the new standards will not be allowed to let passengers transport laptop computers.

NPR's David Schaper joins us now to talk about these measures. Hi, David.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: There's already a limited laptop ban in place for certain flights now. What more is happening?

SCHAPER: Well, what Secretary Kelly announced today is that there will be new security measures applied to all commercial airline flights coming into the U.S. from abroad. This includes enhanced screening of all electronic devices. They're particularly worried about laptops and anything really larger than your cell phone or smartphone. And there will be more thorough passenger vetting.

There will be new measures to head off any threats from insider attacks. That means people who work at the airport or work for the airlines. They're going to require the airlines to acquire some more sophisticated screening equipment, better technology and even use better explosive-detecting dogs better to try to determine if there are bombs being smuggled on to flights and if there is a legitimate threat there.

SHAPIRO: Why does Secretary Kelly say this is necessary?

SCHAPER: He thinks that there is renewed interest among terrorist groups in bringing down a jetliner, particularly those that would be coming to the U.S. And he cites the downing of the Russian Metrojet airplane in 2015 that had been leaving Egypt and killed all 224 people onboard. He says that that was likely caused by a bomb hidden inside of a laptop, and he thinks this is a very legitimate threat that this administration needs to take seriously.

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JOHN KELLY: With this announcement, we send a clear message that inaction is not an option. Those who choose not to cooperate or are slow to adapt - adopt these measures could be subject to other restrictions, including a ban on electronic devices on aircraft or even a suspension of their flights into the United States.

SHAPIRO: David, I'm just thinking about the number of travelers for business or pleasure who take a laptop. If you are not allowed to have one either in your carry-on or your checked bag, how is that going to affect people who need to do business?

SCHAPER: Yeah, this is huge. This is 2,000 commercial flights that arrive each day into the United States from 280 airports in 105 different countries. And business travelers in particular are really affected. A lot of these overseas flights - they take eight, 10, 12 hours. And to be a business traveler not to be with your - with your laptop, to not be able to do work for that long of a period of time is a really significant problem for a lot of folks who might resort to, if their airlines don't meet these new demands, just not traveling and taking their business travel overseas or coming back to the U.S.

So there are a lot of folks who are really concerned about this. But Secretary Kelly said today that they've been working with the airlines. They've been trying to meet their needs and talk about their concerns. So - and he is convinced that all of the airlines except for maybe a few around the world should be able to meet these new requirements as well as the airports that they fly in and out of.

SHAPIRO: What do you hear from security experts you talk to? Do they think this is a good move?

SCHAPER: There is a legitimate threat here. The few folks that I've talked to have said that there are - that laptop bombs have been around for a while and that they've been trying to - terrorists have been trying to figure out a way to bring down a big jetliner like this. So there are legitimate concerns. And there is a general consensus that there needs to be a better global-wide security at airports, that everybody has to up their game quite a bit. And this is essentially the U.S. forcing the rest of the world's hand.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's David Schaper. Thanks a lot.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO'S "LOCO'S LAMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.