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The Traveler's Dilemma

Your smartphone’s short-lived battery could make you an airline security risk

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New US security rules could leave travelers feeling blue.AP Photo/R&R Partners

Now there’s a new reason to be anxious about the rapidly dwindling battery meter on your smartphone or tablet.

New US aviation security regulations mean that the consequences of a dead iPhone won’t end with the misery of a being forced to read the in-flight magazine for entertainment. If you’re flying to the US from certain unspecified airports in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, security screeners may require that you turn on your phone, tablet, laptop, or other electronic device.

If your battery is dead, you’re out of luck—you’ll either have to leave it behind, find some way to charge it before clearing security, or in the worst case scenario, miss your flight altogether. Travelers with insufficiently charged devices “may also undergo additional screening,” the US Transportation Safety Authority warned on its website.

The BBC’s Richard Westcott said that London’s Heathrow airport is making plans to let people plug in their devices at the security checkpoint, or mail the phones to their final destination if they can’t be charged in time:

The new regulations are being put into place because US officials are concerned that terrorists might use a smartphone casing to conceal a bomb. Groups like the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist Nusra Front are reportedly plotting to take down an airplane. Presumably, the thinking is that a device that actually functions couldn’t contain enough explosives to cause any harm.

But the restrictions could be a major pain for those of us who struggle to keep our devices fully charged, especially when traveling. As Kevin Roose of New York Magazine noted this weekend, battery capacity is actually improving—but at a steady linear pace that isn’t keeping up with the exponential increases that are driving electronic gadgets’ power consumption.

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