Travel SOS: Why you need to remove your laptop at airport security

Not-so-frequent flyer Jan wants to know why she’s always having to pull out her laptop and other electronic equipment when going through airport security.

Q: Jan
Why do I have to pull my laptop, iPad and phone out of my bag before it gets scanned? Surely the scanners are smart enough to tell it’s a computer. Or do they think it could be a bomb? Anyway, can you explain?

A: Like many, I’ve done a fair bit of travel for business, so pulling my laptop out prior to running my carry-on bag through airport security scans is kind of second nature. I can’t even say I’ve thought about it. So, in answering this one I’ve also learnt something.

Most of you would have had to take your laptop and electronic devices out of your hand luggage when going through airport security.

Years ago, I, too, thought it might be to prevent someone hiding a bomb or some sort of weapon.

Airport X-ray machine operator Michael Sørensen told Escape that the reason passengers have to remove electronics is all to do with how a laptop’s battery looks inside the X-ray machine.

Read: Sex toys stopped at security, but snakes in a bag get through

According to him, they can obscure items in your bag and prevent staff from seeing whether you’re bringing prohibited items on board.

“The main reason that you need to remove laptops especially, and tablets sometimes, is because the batteries and some electronics are such dense metallic material that they obscure what’s beneath,” he says.

“So that’s why we ask for electronics with large batteries to be next to your bag or in a tray on its own.

“If I notice a laptop in a bag, I’ll either ask the owner to remove it or take the bag around again and turn it over to see from the other side.

“Depends on how big and annoying [the device] is in my view.”

Read: What not to wear at airport security

Laptop batteries can also be quite dangerous on the plane, says the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which warns that laptop batteries can overheat if they are stored in the hold on a plane.

Different airlines have their own rules around batteries stored in checked luggage, but most recommending you do not do so.

According to the FAA, laptops could catch fire in a bag and if that bag also contained flammable items such as aerosol deodorant, the resulting blaze could bring down the plane.

That’s makes me feel a bit less annoyed at having to pull it out at security!

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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