More charging facilities are being introduced at airports to help passengers at risk of having to leave devices with flat batteries behind, the Government has said.
Robert Goodwill, the transport minister, said airlines were taking steps to ensure that enough charging points are available for passengers to avoid falling foul of new checks on electronic items.
He added that carriers were working on methods to reunite passengers with items they are prohibited from carrying on board, but Labour accused the Government of confusing passengers with “cryptic” advice.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have changed their policies on checks on electrical gadgets over the past week, while many foreign airlines have yet to confirm how they are approaching the new rules.
As part of a new security protocol applied to US-bound flights last week and extended to certain other routes on Tuesday, passengers must prove their devices work properly by switching them on when asked to do so by staff at the gate or face leaving them behind.
The checks are prompted by fears terrorists have developed a new explosive which could be disguised inside a mobile phone or laptop.
The Government has not revealed on which routes in and out of the UK the new rules apply, meaning all passengers are advised to charge electronic items in their carry-on luggage before travelling to the airport.
But there are still concerns over how innocent passengers who either forget to do so, store chargers in their checked luggage or use up the battery on phones or iPads during the first leg of a transit flight will be affected.
At Heathrow Airport yesterday Adam Hatton, 49, said he had spent half an hour sitting on the floor next to a departure board waiting for his BlackBerry phone to charge up enough to remain switched on until his boarding time.
“I have had a Leatherman-style pocket knife taken off me before, it took months to get it back,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to lose my phone for that long.”
The confusion over the new rules comes as many independent schools break up for the summer holiday today, with state schools to follow next week.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr Goodwill said: “I know airlines are taking steps to ensure that devices can be powered up at the departure gate.
“This can be addressed in a number of ways, so that for example people can be reunited with their devices or indeed that charging points can be made available.”
Heathrow and Gatwick said they had no immediate plans to introduce more electrical sockets with sufficient numbers already in place, but both will review the situation if demand from passengers increases.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are providing limited numbers of chargers at gates for passengers to use before attempting to board, while Dixon’s is offering to charge the devices of passengers travelling to the US for free.
But official travel advice posted on BA’s website warns: “There will be very limited charging points at airports.”
BA is now offering to post items to passengers for free if they are unable to switch them on, after initially saying it would ban travellers from even boarding their flight if they failed the security test, while Virgin is offering a similar service after originally saying customers would have to pay for postage.
But most foreign airlines are offering no advice to travellers, leading to uncertainty about what would happen to their devices if they failed the checks at an airport abroad.
Mary Creagh, the shadow transport secretary, accused the government of confusing passengers and called for ministers to draw up a clear and consistent policy to be adopted by airlines.
“There is confusion among passengers about what they can and can’t take through security and different airlines appear to have different policies on the checks and on returning confiscated items to travellers,” she said in the House of Commons.
“The Government being quite cryptic about it makes life a little bit more difficult than it needs to be,” she told The Telegraph later on Thursday. “Ministers should be working with airlines to give passengers the information they need before they travel, and to work out what happens if this stuff is confiscated.”