Digital

Travel Managers Worry TSA Mobile Rules Could Compromise Sensitive Data

@denschaal

Jul 15, 2014 6:00 am

Skift Take

If airlines and airports had adequate charging facilities for electronic devices then the new UK and U.S. rules on powering up electronic devices at security wouldn’t be a big problem. As it is now, implementation and policies varies widely, leading to a ton of confusion.

— Dennis Schaal

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Travelers flying to the U.S. from certain foreign airports may be asked to power up their mobile devices at security. Pictured, a women looks at her mobile phone and ponders pressing "Purchase" for an upcoming flight option. Getty Images


Corporate travel managers in U.S. and Europe are “very concerned” about new UK and  TSA rules requiring travelers to power up electronic devices upon request at certain foreign airports that accommodate direct flights to the U.S.

In an Association of Corporate Travel Executives email survey of travel managers, conducted July 10 to July 13, a greater percentage of U.S.-based travel managers (68%) than their European peers (57%) responded that they were “very concerned” about what would happen to proprietary information on the devices in the event they were seized.

For example, what could happen to a contract, financial document or sensitive email if it were on an electronic device that was seized, whether it might eventually be returned or not?

An additional 24% of U.S. travel managers and 29% of Europeans indicated they were “concerned” about proprietary data on electronic devices, although 8% of U.S. travel managers and 14% of Europeans stated they were “not concerned.”

Travel managers are the personnel within corporations that have managed travel programs who oversee employee travels. They might be responsible for the travels of a few dozen to several thousand employees.

The TSA’s new rules leave business and leisure travelers flying from unspecified foreign airports to the U.S. subject to varying policies and procedures carried out by airports and airlines because the TSA can’t dictate implementation procedures.

In recent days, British Airways posted a notice about Enhanced security checks on electronic devices at the behest of UK and U.S. authorities, informing passengers they “may be asked to turn on any electrical or battery powered devices such as telephones, tablets, e-books and laptops in front of security teams and/or demonstrate the item’s functionality.”

British Airways states that passengers who can’t power up electronic devices will have the devices taken away, meaning they can’t board their ticketed flight with them.

The airline outlines the following options for passengers who wish to be reunited with their confiscated devices:

“Customers can ask to be rebooked on to a later service. If you wish to carry on the item as part of you hand luggage, you will need to ensure that the device can be charged ahead of your rebooked flight.

“Customers are able to leave the device behind and hand it to a member of British Airways’ customer service team. You will be asked to complete a form and the item can be collected on your return or forwarded to an address of your choice.

“Customers who are departing from an airport outside of the UK and cannot demonstrate that their electronic device has power, will be able to discuss a range of options with our airport customer services team. Depending on the airport there may be different options available.”

The ACTE survey, which elicited responses from 156 U.S.-based travel managers and 88 in Europe, found minimal impact so far from the new procedures with only 1% of U.S. travel managers reporting that their travelers faced problems from failed inspections of their electronic devices, and 3% of European travel managers indicating likewise.

None reported changing their policies about proprietary information despite the acute concern, according to ACTE.

The travel managers on the two continents did resoundingly agree on one other thing: 90% of the U.S. travel managers in the ACTE survey and 94% in Europe responded that airports have an inadequate number of charing stations.

“Overall feelings are the U.S. TSA did a poor job in communicating the new restrictions and we are now seeing different interpretations from airlines,” says Greeley Koch, executive director of ACTE.

“Maybe the lack of information was meant to confuse potential terrorists, but confusion at the airport and at the gate doesn’t serve anyone,” Koch says.

The new rules didn’t find a warmer reception among leisure travelers in an online survey of 1,222 Americans and Brits that Cheapflights revealed July 11.

In that survey, only 39.5% of respondents indicated they new about the new UK and U.S. rules on powering up mobile and other electronic devices at security checkpoints, and 47% noted that the provisions were not clear to them.

The rules were imposed out of fear that terrorist could hollow out these electronic devices and pack them with explosives.

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