U.S. plans to send transportation staff to U.S.-Mexico border

FILE PHOTO: Concertina wire is seen atop a section of border fence near the U.S.-Mexico border in Donna, Texas, U.S. May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration plans to redirect Transportation Security Administration staff to the U.S. southern border to assist with immigration duties and migrant flows, the TSA said on Wednesday.

A TSA spokesman said in a statement the bureau was looking for volunteers to support efforts at the U.S. border with Mexico, where the government has said it is grappling with record numbers of people.

“TSA, like all DHS components, is supporting the DHS effort to address the humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border. TSA is in the process of soliciting volunteers to support this effort while minimizing operational impact,” TSA spokesman James Gregory said in a statement.

The TSA border assignment will last at least 45 days and comes at the start of the busy summer travel season, which a U.S. official acknowledged carried “some risk,” CNN reported, citing an internal email it obtained.

TSA staff will include 175 law enforcement officials, including air marshals, and as many as 400 security staff drawn from six U.S. cities but will not include airport screeners, CNN said, citing two additional unnamed sources. The six cities were not immediately identified.

TSA law enforcement officials sent to the border will receive legal training and assist the Customs and Border Protection department as immigration officers, the report said.

The decision comes as the airline and travel industry urge lawmakers to approve funding for more Customs and Border Patrol officers, warning of excessive wait times for traveling and shipping as officers have been shifted to the border.

The Department of Interior has also doubled the number of officers it is sending for three-week stints to the border, from 22 to 47, The Hill reported on Wednesday, citing an internal memorandum.

An Interior Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. government reported earlier this month that border officers had apprehended nearly 99,000 people crossing the border with Mexico in April, the highest figure since 2007. More than two-thirds of those apprehended were children or people traveling as families.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Meredith Mazzilli)

U.S. ends controversial laptop ban on Middle East carriers

FILE PHOTO: Baggage and a laptop are scanned using the Transport Security Administration's new Automated Screening Lane technology at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States has ended a four month ban on passengers carrying laptops onboard U.S. bound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, bringing to an end one of the controversial travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed in a tweet late on Wednesday local time.

Middle East carriers have blamed Trump’s travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim majority countries from visiting the United States, for a downturn in demand on U.S routes.

In March, the United States banned large electronics in cabins on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa over concerns that explosives could be concealed in the devices taken onboard aircraft.

The ban has been lifted on the nine airlines affected — Emirates [EMIRA.UL], Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines <THYAO.IS>, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian <RJAL.AM>, Kuwait Airways [KA.UL], EgyptAir [EGY.UL] and Royal Air Maroc [RAM.UL] — which are the only carriers to fly direct to the United States from the region.

A ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, — remains in place though has been limited after several U.S. court hearings challenged the restrictions.

“The aviation industry has been trying to come together with a united message to governments and stakeholders about regulation and supporting the industry,” said Will Horton, senior analyst at Australian aviation consultancy CAPA.

“That was dealt a first blow from the travel ban and then a second from the large electronics ban.”

Leading industry group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) criticized the laptop ban as ineffective, as security experts argued that militants could travel to the United States via Europe or elsewhere where the restrictions didn’t apply.

The restrictions were imposed as major U.S. carriers American Airlines Group <AAL.O>, Delta Air Lines <DAL.N> and United Airlines <UAL.N> resumed their campaign against the Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways by pressuring the new U.S. administration to renegotiate its open skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

However, U.S. and Middle East officials said the campaign and the travel restrictions were not related.

U.S. officials lifted the ban after visiting the 10 airports in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey over the past three weeks to confirm new security measures announced last month were being implemented.

On Thursday, the U.S. issued a revised directive to airlines around the world in response to requests that it clarify aviation security measures scheduled to start taking effect this week.

The new requirements include enhanced passenger screening at foreign airports, increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas and expanded canine screening. They affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States, on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries.

Airlines that fail to meet the new security requirements could face in-cabin electronics restrictions.

The United Kingdom continues to enforce a similar in-cabin ban on electronics ban on flights from some Middle Eastern airports. Those restrictions apply to flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Michael Perry)

U.S. ending laptop ban on Middle Eastern airlines

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said on Monday it had lifted a ban on passengers on Saudi Arabian Airlines carrying large electronics like laptops onboard U.S.-bound flights, the last carrier under the restrictions.

In March, U.S. officials imposed restrictions on passengers carrying laptops and other large electronic gear in cabins on nine airlines, most of which were Middle Eastern carriers, to address the potential threat of hidden explosives.

Last month, U.S. officials announced new security requirements for all airlines rather than an expansion of the laptop ban and have been dropping the restrictions from airlines as they boosted security.

A TSA spokesman said the U.S. government had lifted the restrictions at Saudia Arabian Airlines’ main hub in Jeddah at King Abdulaziz International Airport on Monday. U.S. government officials will visit Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport “later this week to confirm compliance there as well,” spokesman James Gregory said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a revised directive to airlines around the world in response to requests that it clarify aviation security measures scheduled to begin taking effect later this week.

An airline official briefed on the matter said the directive gave airlines more flexibility and additional time to obtain explosive trace detection equipment. The official was not authorized to discuss sensitive security issues with the media and requested anonymity.

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

 

U.S. unveils enhanced airline security plan to avoid laptop ban

FILE PHOTO -- Passengers use their laptops on a flight out of John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York, U.S., May 26, 2017. Picture taken May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

By David Shepardson and Alana Wise

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday unveiled enhanced security measures for flights to the country designed to prevent expanding an in-cabin ban on laptops, but an airline trade group said the changes might cause more disruptions.

The measures, which European and U.S. officials said would begin taking effect within three weeks, could require additional time to screen passengers and personal electronic devices for possible explosives.

The measures would affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States, on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries.

The United States in March banned laptops on flights to the United States originating at 10 airports in eight countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey, to address fears that bombs could be concealed in electronic devices taken aboard aircraft.

Britain quickly followed suit with a similar set of restrictions.

The decision not to impose new laptop restrictions eases U.S. and European airlines’ concern that expanding the ban to Europe or other locations could cause major logistical problems and deter travel.

“Inaction is not an option,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a news briefing, adding that he believed airlines would comply with the new screening. But he said the measures were not the last step to tighten security. U.S. carriers said they would follow the new security directive, but industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A), criticized Homeland Security for not working more closely with them on the new policies.

“The development of the security directive should have been subject to a greater degree of collaboration and coordination to avoid the significant operational disruptions and unnecessarily frustrating consequences for the traveling public that appear likely to happen,” A4A Chief Executive Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement.

Kelly had been saying since April he thought an expansion of the laptop ban was “likely.” He said in late May the government could potentially expand the ban worldwide.

Homeland Security officials told reporters they expected more than 99 percent of airlines would comply, a move that would effectively end the controversial electronics ban.

Airlines that fail to satisfy new security requirements could still face in-cabin electronics restrictions, Kelly said. “We expect all airlines will work with us to keep their aircraft, their crew and their passengers safe,” he said.

European and U.S. officials told Reuters that airlines have 21 days to put in place increased explosive trace detection screening and have 120 days to comply with other security measures, including enhanced screening of airline passengers.

U.S. authorities want increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas, expanded canine screening and additional places where travelers can be cleared by U.S. officials before they depart.

Since laptops are widely used in flight by business class passengers – who pay double or more than the average ticket price – the airline industry had feared expanding the ban could cut into revenue.

Airline officials told Reuters they were concerned about adding enhanced security measures to all airports worldwide that have direct flights to the United States rather than focus them on airports where threats are highest. European airline groups said in a document reviewed by Reuters that if the threats are confirmed, the restrictions should be deployed to cover all EU departing flights, not just U.S.-bound flights.

Homeland security officials said Wednesday that those 10 airports can get off the list if they meet the new security requirements, but did not say how long it will take.

U.S. airline stocks rose on Wednesday, with United Continental Holdings <UAL.N> closing up 1 percent, Delta Air Lines Inc <DAL.N> up 2 percent and American Airlines Group <AAL.O> up 1.6 percent.

Kelly said last week he planned a “step by step” security enhancement plan that included short, medium-term and longer-term improvements that would take at least a year to implement fully.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Alana Wise in New York and Julia Fioretti in Brussels; Editing by Chris Sanders and Richard Chang)

U.S. says expanding laptop ban ‘still on the table’

FILE PHOTO: A TSA official removes a laptop from a bag for scanning using the Transport Security Administration's new Automated Screening Lane technology at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo

By David Shepardson and Julia Fioretti

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is still considering an expansion of a ban on laptops and other large electronics in airline cabins after Secretary John Kelly spoke to European officials on Tuesday, a department spokesman said.

The spokesman, David Lapan, confirmed that Kelly spoke to European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc on Tuesday and told them that while no expansion was announced Tuesday that it “is still on the table.”

Lapan said both sides agreed on the need to improve “aviation security globally, including through a range of potential seen and unseen enhancements.”

Lapan said that “Secretary Kelly affirmed he will implement any and all measures necessary to secure commercial aircraft flying to the United States – including prohibiting large electronic devices from the passenger cabin – if the intelligence and threat level warrant it.”

Lapan said no announcement on any expansion was planned this week.

Kelly told “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend that he “might” ban laptops from airplane cabins on all international flights both into and out of the United States.

An EU Commission spokesman said Kelly did not make an announcement about whether the United States would extend the ban to European airports during the “positive and constructive” call.

“Both sides agreed to intensify talks both at technical and political levels to find common solutions to mitigate potential threats to aviation security and work together to step up security requirements,” the spokesman added.

After meetings with airlines and European officials, the Department of Homeland Security has declined to offer a timetable for making a decision and instead said it would be made by Kelly on a review of threats.

One major issue that has been under consideration is the potential safety implications of storing large numbers of laptop batteries in the cargo holds of airliners.

Airline and government officials say there have been discussions about potential alternatives to an expansion of the laptop ban, including enhanced screening, but that no decisions have been made.

In March, the United States announced laptop restrictions on flights originating from 10 airports, including in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, because of fears that a concealed bomb could be installed in electronic devices taken onto aircraft.

Britain quickly followed suit with restrictions on a slightly different set of routes.

The U.S. restrictions cover about 350 flights a week. Extending the ban to all European airports would affect nearly 400 flights a day and cover 30 million travelers.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Additional reporting by Julia C. Fioretti in Brussels; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. might ban laptops on all flights into and out of the country

A TSA worker loads suitcases at the checked luggage security screening station at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California,

By Toni Clarke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States might ban laptops from aircraft cabins on all flights into and out of the country as part of a ramped-up effort to protect against potential security threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Sunday.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Kelly said the United States planned to “raise the bar” on airline security, including tightening screening of carry-on items.

“That’s the thing that they are obsessed with, the terrorists, the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it’s a U.S. carrier, particularly if it’s full of U.S. people.”

In March, the government imposed restrictions on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins on flights from 10 airports, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

Kelly said the move would be part of a broader airline security effort to combat what he called “a real sophisticated threat.” He said no decision had been made as to the timing of any ban.

“We are still following the intelligence,” he said, “and are in the process of defining this, but we’re going to raise the bar generally speaking for aviation much higher than it is now.”

Airlines are concerned that a broad ban on laptops may erode customer demand. But none wants an incident aboard one of its airplanes.

“Whatever comes out, we’ll have to comply with,” Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines told  the company’s annual meeting last week.

Airlines were blindsided in January when President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry for 90 days to citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, sending airlines scrambling to determine who could board and who could not. The order was later blocked in the courts.

In the case of laptops, the administration is keeping the industry in the loop. Delta Air Lines  said in a statement it “continues to be in close contact with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” while Munoz applauded the administration for giving the company a “heads up.”

“We’ve had constant updates on the subject,” he said. “We know more than most. And again, if there’s a credible threat out there, we need to make sure we take the appropriate measures.”

MORE SCRUTINY OF CARRY-ONS

Among the enhanced security measures will likely be tighter screening of carry-on items to allow Transport Security Administration agents to discern problematic items in tightly stuffed bags.

Kelly said that in order to avoid paying fees for checking bags, people were stuffing them to the point where it was difficult to see through the clutter.

“The more stuff is in there, the less the TSA professionals that are looking at what’s in those bags through the monitors can tell what’s in them.”

The TSA has begun testing certain new procedures at a limited number of airports, requiring people to remove additional items from carry-on bags for separate screenings.

Asked whether the government would expand such measures nationwide, Kelly said: “We might, and likely will.”

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, David French in New York and Alana Wise in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)

U.S. decision on expanded laptop ban not imminent: Homeland Security

FILE PHOTO: An illustration picture shows a laptop on the screen of an X-ray security scanner, April 7, 2017. Picture taken April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/Illustration

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Homeland Security Department said on Wednesday t2hat no specific timeline had been set for a decision on whether to expand a ban on larger electronics as carry-on luggage for air travel.

DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters at a briefing there was “nothing imminent” that would require an immediate decision to expand the ban on laptops, which currently applies to 10 mostly Middle Eastern airports. He also said there has been no discussion on expanding the ban to domestic U.S. flights or flights leaving the United States.

In March, the United States announced laptop restrictions on flights originating from 10 airports, including in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, because of fears a bomb could be concealed in electronic devices taken aboard aircraft.

Britain quickly followed suit with restrictions on a slightly different set of routes.

Lapan reiterated that DHS still believed it was “likely” the U.S. ban will be expanded. He said talks with Europe were not a “negotiation” over whether to expand the airports covered because Homeland Security director John Kelly would make any decision based strictly on an analysis of threats.

DHS and European officials held a working group level meeting on Tuesday but no new talks are currently scheduled, Lapan said.

Lapan said the United States would give airports at least the same four-day notice it gave Middle Eastern and other airlines in March before the restrictions took effect, but said it could be longer.

Reuters and other outlets reported on May 11 that the ban on laptops on commercial aircraft was likely to include some European countries.

Any expansion of the ban could affect U.S. carriers such as United Airlines (UAL.N), Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) and American Airlines Group (AAL.O).

In 2016, 30 million people flew to the United States from Europe, according to U.S. Transportation Department data.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

Passengers walk through JFK checkpoint without being screened: NBC

(Reuters) – Eleven passengers walked through a security checkpoint without being screened before apparently boarding planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Monday, national media reported.

The breaches occurred at about 6 a.m. local time at a checkpoint lane that was not fully staffed, NBC News reported.

The passengers’ carry-on bags were screened and cleared by a security team with sniffer dogs, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) sources told the broadcaster.

Three of the passengers set off metal detectors but were permitted to continue to their boarding gates without being body searched by staff, the broadcaster said.

U.S. authorities beefed up security at airports in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks.

A debate over whether it should be tightened further has been given impetus by a deadly shooting in January in a Florida airport baggage claim area, and attempts by President Donald Trump to clamp down on immigration from some Muslim-majority countries.

The Port Authority said three passengers were screened after they got off their flight when it landed in California.

It did not say if they were the people who had also set off the metal detectors, and gave no information about the identities or flight schedules of the other eight passengers.

The TSA said it was confident the incident presented “minimal risk to the aviation transportation system,” NBC News reported.

TSA and port authority officials were not immediately available for further comment.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; editing by John Stonestreet)

Four U.S. airports to open automated security lanes this fall

American Airlines plane

(Reuters) – Four major U.S. airports plan to speed up security checks by automating the distribution of bins for travelers’ carry-on bags, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and American Airlines Group Inc said on Tuesday.

American’s hubs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami will open the automated lanes this fall, which are expected to decrease wait times by 30 percent, the airline and TSA said in a joint statement.

Long security lines at U.S. airports this spring caused thousands of travelers to miss their flights and prompted criticism of TSA by airlines and other industry groups.

In an interview last month, American’s CEO Doug Parker said the world’s largest airline was working with airports to roll out the faster lanes, already in place at rival Delta Air Lines Inc’s Atlanta hub.

At the four airports, automated conveyer belts will move bins for carry-on luggage through X-ray machines and divert those with suspicious items to a separate area, preventing bottlenecks. After screening is complete, the belts automatically move the bins back to the start of each lane.

American and TSA also said they plan to add computed tomography, or CT, scans for carry-on bags at a checkpoint in Phoenix by year-end.

The technology, currently in use for checked luggage, could allow travelers to leave carry-on liquids and laptops stowed in their bags.

“Think of the time – and bins! – that saves,” American’s Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom said in a letter to employees on Tuesday, shared with Reuters, noting that the airline is spending nearly $5 million on the new lanes.

“Neither initiative is a slam dunk to solve TSA woes, but they are both huge steps in the right direction,” he said.

American has said the TSA must add enough staff to handle checkpoints during peak travel times, without relying on airlines to contract extra airport staff. Earlier this year, TSA projected it will screen 15 percent more people than in 2013, with 12 percent fewer agents.

TSA may deploy CT scans elsewhere if the Phoenix pilot program succeeds, according to the statement.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York, editing by G Crosse)

Lighten up at airport security lines, U.S. judge tells travelers

A Transportation Safety Administration agent looks over a line of passengers at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – It is the job of airport security screeners to stop terrorists, not to referee disputes between passengers waiting on line, a U.S. magistrate judge has ruled, in dismissing a lawsuit brought by an unhappy traveler.

Judge Howard Lloyd issued the decision late on Tuesday, in a year when thousands of waiting passengers have missed flights because of tighter security requirements and staff shortages at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Justin Ngo, of Sunnyvale, California, filed his lawsuit in nearby San Jose, after TSA agents refused to detain a family waiting behind him at a checkpoint at Honolulu International Airport in February 2014.

In his complaint against the TSA, the airport and officials, Ngo said a mother and her children kept hitting his luggage while playing, ignoring his requests to stop, while the father repeatedly kicked the luggage and told him to “Lighten up!”

He said he suffered emotional distress and that the TSA was negligent and an accomplice to assault and harassment.

But the judge said Congress created the TSA soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to combat terrorism and prevent “mass murder” in the skies, not mediate disputes between careless or impatient passengers on line.

“When Ngo entered the security checkpoint, the TSA was a gatekeeper obliged to determine whether he should be permitted to pass,” Lloyd wrote. “The TSA had no duty to detain a family at his command.”

Ngo, who represented himself in the lawsuit, had no immediate comment on Wednesday.

The case is Ngo v. Transportation Security Administration et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 16-00481.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)