Those of you with an Apple iPhone should be able to use your phone at the airport with enough effort to get a free pass through security. Just check your phone.
At a National Institute of Standards and Technology symposium on Wednesday, the transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, announced a major change in TSA policies related to mobile devices. In a directive given to the agency, she asked the Transportation Security Administration to “determine how to allow devices with cellular modems on board the aircraft during the phase-in period for the TSA PreCheck program.”
There is more than one advantage of the program, according to Carolyn Gregoire, an archivist at the Transportation Security Administration who is a leading expert on the pre-check program, which has been operational since 2012. “In order to get a pre-check badge on the airport checkpoint, you really have to go through some mental gymnastics,” she explained. “You have to say, ‘I don’t want to go through the major busy screening lines that have all the frilly stuff on them, so I’m willing to make some sacrifices.'”
But once you are through the phase-in period, even once you are approved for the program, you may still not be able to use your iPhone or any other phone at the airport with a cellular chip. “We are looking to add on devices with a cellular component at different stages, which would enable members of the pre-check program to use their devices,” said TSA spokesman Michael McCarthy. “The phase-in process for Apple iPhones would happen gradually, in other words, more devices would eventually be allowed to use the mobile chip before you would need to provide a unique pass for the device.”
In the final versions of a draft regulation proposed in March, TSA appeared to permit the use of mobile phones with cellular chips while in the phase-in period for the PreCheck program, which means that people with iPhones would be allowed to access the airport network and can use their phones at the airport without paying for an access pass. The draft, however, does not explicitly allow all mobile phones to be used while using the pre-check program.
It may be enough, then, to just keep an iPhone handy and to show you TSA agents your phone every time they ask you to take off your shoes or jacket or light your watch.
“If the customer feels that they have to take off their phone to comply with regulations, you have to get that customer to comply with regulations,” Gregoire said. “That is a poor experience, and every time you get distracted by someone’s phone, the airplane is likely to suffer. I just think the majority of travelers will make the smart decision and just be on the phone.”
Maybe not every time. In the past few years, a number of studies have found that passengers tend to press harder when the phone is very close to them.
A study of the flight from Paris to Philadelphia last August found that busy travelers with their smartphones in front of them felt more afraid than passengers that sat farther away with their screens farther away. This conclusion was drawn from two airports in the United States, where people using iPhones were placed a fair distance apart from each other. It turns out, although the study’s authors were unable to correlate the close proximity with the results, many of the people who had their phones physically in front of them described themselves as “looking over their shoulder” at their iPhone, both during boarding and during the boarding process itself.
Geatroff said that while the experience of waiting for the screening begins before the actual screening, passengers may continue to focus on their devices while being interviewed by TSA. This is true, he said, “because people are going to bring things with them to the screening area that can easily be viewed. And that can cause people to read things that are unhelpful or inadvisable. And that kind of extends all the way through.”