I Was Asked To Power On Electronics At Security

Filed Under: Security/TSA

In early July I posted about the new TSA policy which was implemented at overseas airports, whereby powerless electronic devices wouldn’t be permitted on planes.

Yesterday I experienced that — along with “targeted” secondary security — for the first time. It was no big deal at all, but I figured I’d share my experience, since it was a first.

I was flying from Frankfurt to New York on Singapore Airlines, and when I went to board the plane the machine that scans boarding passes beeped several times. The agent told me I needed to go to the ticket desk for a document check, though once there I was directed to the side of the gate, where two police offers told me to sit down.


Hmmm, wtf? I didn’t see anyone other than the two police officers, so at this point I wasn’t sure if they saw me taking pictures, or what. But as it turns out that was just the waiting area for secondary security, which was located behind a partition.

I was asked to power on all my electronic devices. Everything in my bags was searched, and I was given an intensive pat down. Amazingly enough the whole process took about 15 minutes.

Then I went to board the plane again, but the scanner beeped the same way that it did the first time I tried to go through. I was once again directed to go to the ticketing desk, and the agent said they needed to get the gate supervisor in order to “release” me onto the flight.

In all it took about 20 minutes, and I was among the last people aboard. There was one other passenger who got secondary (he was in Suites Class), but I don’t think anyone else did.

Anyway, this wasn’t a big deal at all, though was different than my past experience with secondary security on US-bound flights. Up until now, my experience has been that they’ll:

  • Pull people over randomly on the jet bridge to do a cursory check of their bags.
  • Pull everyone over on the jet bridge to do a cursory check of their bags
  • “Randomly” pull people over as they enter the “sterile” gate area

But this was the first time where it actually seemed to be linked to my ticket. I’m not sure if it was because I booked last minute, if it was random, or what.

Oh well, I was long overdue, given that I otherwise never seem to get secondary at either security or customs.

Has anyone experienced a similar type of secondary, or know what triggers it?


  1. I’ve had secondary (or tertiary) checks a few times at HKG, and every time it happened to me was because I checked in at Airport Express the day before my flight (could do so up to 24 hours before flight) – and when they had a list with my name, and several others’ on it.

    My process at HKG didn’t take 15 extra minutes, but did take a handful of minutes and I was patted down. They were also nice enough to repack everything for me.

  2. I was boarding an ORD-bound United flight at GRU. My ticket bipped and they sent me to a partitioned area, where I and a couple more people had our carry-ons opened and tested for traces of explosives. The whole thing took no more than 10 minutes.

  3. My guess is that your last minute booking combined with you flying solo might have pushed you up……were you on a revenue ticket?

  4. When I took that flight last summer they made pretty much everyone go through the extra security. Had to essentially empty my bag and submit to this wanding. I thought it was a stupid waste of time. But at least they were making pretty much everyone do it.

  5. I’m batting 1.000 ex Europe. Once at FRA, two cops basically saw my Asian face and ushered me aside. A few months ago at BRU, it was probably my Chinese passport that got the scanner to beep. Haven’t had any secondary ex Asia, though.

  6. I’ve been asked to power on electronics 4+ times since then (including both ways through LHR), and I don’t fly nearly as much as you… must look suspicious.

  7. Last July 29th SEA bound from FRA on LH a frequent LH traveling businessman type (1A) was last to board in First. He was all shook up and described his ordeal. The secondary check took him 25 minutes. They showed him the mark on his ticket that got him the extra attention. He was required to remove his clothing etc. He was not a happy camper but the LH Purser gave him a few shots of his favorite.

    There was no mention of the new dead battery business although it was already making the news.

    All FC passengers at the LH FC Terminal flying to the US, including us, (your clients) went through a secondary casual body pat down immediately after passing through the rudimentary body scanner.

    Waiting for our flight out Manila, end of June, we actually witnessed a full secondary carry on scan, body screening and interviewing at the boarding gate. I spoke to the personnel and they said that a very recent directive came down ordering extra security precautions on all direct flights to the USA. The whole process looked like a scene from the Three Stooges. Nothing was mentioned about dead batteries either.

  8. I’ve had that before a few times. Booking last minute has often triggered the secondary screening. Flying lufthansa out of lax I have gotten the three s’ s on my boarding card. First time I was puzzled I wised up the second and third time! It’s sometimes a pain and often embarrassing when you’re the only one being checked, especially when you fly more than the other passengers.

  9. Ben,

    Come on. We all know you’re an agent for the Bundesnachrichtendienst and this “travel blog” is just your elaborate cover.

  10. Did you happen to notice if you had the characters ‘SSSS’ on your boarding pass ? In my experience this indicates that the scanner will beep and you will get the intensive search. One a way award ticket Bos to lax with my six year old last month I had every single thing – down to the last pen in my carry ons – laid out on the table and examined.

  11. Lucky,
    Did your boarding pass have SSSS displayed on it? If so, that might explain it. I was on a Etihad flight bound for JFK last week and people were being pulled over by the agent checking boarding passes prior to the secondary screening. I later saw a list of people with SSSS, there were 52 of them on my flight, out of 350 pax. Probably not quite surprising since we were departing from the Middle East

  12. I was just going to ask if you had the dreaded “SSSS” on your boarding pass. I hadn’t seen it for years but interestingly it appeared for me on a FCO->JFK Alitalia flight recently — but then there was no secondary screening at all (not for me, nor for anyone else on the plane as far as I saw). And that ticket was booked months in advance on a roundtrip award.

    Maybe they’re concerned that terrorists have been signing up for too many credit cards and are traveling on award tickets now?

  13. I got secondary check in FRA on July 29, going UA J (revenue with upgrade) on FRA-SFO. This is after I had already flown MAD-FRA to connect on onto the UA flight. The officer had a list of about 20 people that were being checked on our flight, and in the end the last person got on the airplane 30 minutes after departure time. As soon as he got on, a thunderstorm came over the airport and delayed the flight for 2 more hours. Had we closed doors on-time, we would have left before the storm.

    What sucks is that it happens at the gate, which if someone is showing up last minute who has been tagged for secondary, results in the the flight being delayed. They need to figure out a way to do it somewhere earlier in the chain.

  14. On my return on a RT from AMS had me turn everything on… single young male on a business class ticket

  15. It’s pretty absurd that good citizens are subjected to this harassment yet a crazy lady makes it to the plane without even having a ticket…

  16. Same thing happens to me every time if visit Frankfurt. I almost know all the cops who work the US Airways gates.

  17. only times I’ve had secondary screenings at the gate were in ’97 as a teenager flying KLM schiphol to detroit, a simple apt down and some questions from some grimacing Dutch cops; and the day after the underwear bomber flying BA from Heathrow to EWR whereupon, out of panic I suppose, they did a secondary, thorough screening of EVERY passenger — everything from flipping through books and magazines looking for false compartments to doing a VERY invasive pat down on the gents (imagine what your doc does at a physical). A lot of missed flights that day due to the time it took to process a terminal full of people.

    Thankfully, no such misfortune since. Although what is the deal with Canadian immigration agents?? Got the third degree this past weekend for visiting YYC just because I didn’t know anyone there and didn’t have specific plans. Interrogated for almost 20 minutes. Very embarrassing.

  18. Only got picked randomly once on the United, Oslo to Newark flight. However, every time I go to the US, I always get taken aside for “extended” screening when entering the US. Usually takes 1-3 hours. (I go to the US about 5-7 times a year. Border Control and US embassy insist I’m not “flagged” and also acknowledge I don’t need any special visa…

  19. I was ‘picked’ 3x while flying back to the US via LHR. The agent just said it happens to those who travel often.

  20. @pavel Yeah I had the same treatment @ YVR No plans = welcome to secondary where we inspect every single thing in your bag and all your electronics while being so jelly at all the stamps in your passport only to let you go after we can’t find anything

  21. @Lucky for your devices you had to power up did you have to log into your computer and show them that it worked? I travel a lot with my work computer and it takes a good 5-10 minutes before I can log into it. Stupid PC.

  22. @Hasse what passport are you holding… something must be wrong somewhere,, most probably with them….

  23. @Jay – I hold a Danish passport, with an South African residency Visa, though i do live in DK.
    Last time I went to US, it was through Cananda – was taken aside and told the passport was stolen. Sat for 1.5 hour and waited for the officer to sort things out. Finally he came back and Said “you didn’t do it – have a good day”. Asked if he could clarify or if I should go to the US Embassy and response was “you didn’t do it – have a good Day, please remember to take all your belongings with you” it was a very wierd situation, but the officer was at least very polite. I have now gotten used to the whole thing, and make sure I always have plenty of time, if I have connections.

  24. It’s partly random, but many factors can increase your chances of getting the extra scrutiny. Flying on a one-way ticket? Oh yeah. No checked bars? Yep. Sure thats dumb, but it is what it is.

    With the recent worries about “worse-than-al-qaeda ISIL/ISIS” – and fears that US and Europeans are apart of that – expect more of this coming up. You heard it here first.

  25. It must have been the last minute ticket. I have never been asked to power up all my electronics. At least we know security is trying to do their best.

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