By now, anyone who travels by plane will no doubt have gotten used to the ever-increasing array of security checks carried out when we head to the airport. Whether it's taking off our shoes and belts, having bottles of sun cream deemed too large and unceremoniously thrown into the bin, or even being pulled aside for the awkward full-body X-ray, it's an inconvenience we've come to accept in exchange for the comfort of flying with peace of mind.
But for the thousands of Brits who will be heading to the US for their summer holiday over the coming weeks, things could be about to get a little more annoying, as security staff have now been instructed to pay closer attention to travellers' electronic gadgets – and with seemingly every passenger now carrying a smartphone, tablet or laptop, it might be a case you'll be facing even longer lines at the security checks.
And the inconvenience could get a lot worse if you get to the front of the queue, only to be told your precious gadget won't be allowed on the plane at all. So it'll be important to put in a bit of forward planning to make sure you're not caught out if you don't want to start your vacation on the wrong foot.
What are the new rules?
New advice issued by the government from this week states that anyone flying to the US may be required to demonstrate that their portable gadgets work – whether this be a smartphone, tablet, MP3 player or anything else. And the Department for Transport has been very clear about the consequences if you've failed to prepare for this beforehand.
It said: "Make sure your electronic devices are charged before you travel. If your device doesn't switch on, you won't be allowed to bring it onto the aircraft."
Heathrow Airport – which sees dozens of transatlantic flights leave every day – has already warned passengers about the changes and advised that affected passengers may have to undergo extra screening.
So far, the Department for Transport has declined to say whether other UK airports with flights to the US – which include Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow – will impose similar checks, but it will be better to be safe than sorry.
Why the changes?
The new restrictions are the results of renewed security threats against flights to the US – in particular intelligence reports that suggest militants in Syria and Yemen are developing new types of explosive that are capable of evading standard airport security measures.
While the US has given no specific details about the nature of any new threat, some analysts have suggested that it may involve undetectable explosives being smuggled aboard aircraft in the guise of smartphone batteries. US officials have already reportedly singled out Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone handsets for extra scrutiny.
And anyone hoping that the new restrictions will be a temporary inconvenience may be disappointed. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg warned on his radio phone-in show last week: "I don't think we should expect this to be a one-off temporary thing … I don't want people to think that this is just a sort of a blip for a week. This is part of an evolving and constant review about whether the checks keep up with the nature of the threats we face."
What can you do about it?
While we'll all have to put up with the long lines, you can at least make sure your phone isn't denied entry to a flight by keeping it charged at all times, so you can switch it on immediately if asked.
And the best way to ensure you're never at risk of running out of juice is to carry an emergency charging device, so if you are caught short of power, you won't end up having to run around hunting for a socket. The Proporta USB TurboCharger 7000 is great for this – as it not only fills up your smartphone, but can also charge up power-hungry gadgets like tablets, laptops or almost anything else that has a USB connection – it can even charge two devices at once.
Alternatively, if you just have the one phone you need to keep topped up with charge, consider the TurboCharger Pocket Power Emergency Charger. This handy little charger can be a real lifesaver – and at just 7mm thick and the size of a credit card, it won't push your hand luggage allowance to the limit.