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Only 0.5 mm determines whether Samsung’s new phone flies with you or in the luggage hold

Quartz/Mike Murphy
Space travel would probably be a whole separate issue.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Samsung unveiled a slew of new devices at an event in New York today (March 29), including its newest oversized flagship phone, the Galaxy S8+. It has a massive 6.2-inch HD display, a brand-new built-in virtual assistant called Bixby, and a sharp 12-megapixel camera.

But can it fly?

The US and UK have banned electronics on inbound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, citing their potential to be used in a terror attack. The UK government provided specific dimensions for devices accepted on board. Electronic devices larger than 16 centimeters in length (6.2 inches), 9.3 cm (3.7 in) in width, and 1.5 cm (0.6 in) depth must be checked in luggage, according to the statement.

Samsung’s new supersize phone officially measures in at 15.95 cm, according to specifications shared with Quartz—that’s roughly the width of five human hairs shorter than the devices required to be in checked luggage under the UK ban, or about half a wide as the end of a sharpened pencil. Will security agents and airline employees break out a tape measure to determine whether owners get to use their phones on long-haul flights?

And the US ban is much less specific than the UK’s.

“TSA did not set any specific size/dimensions,” a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman told Quartz in an email. “Airlines are to use the approximate size of a cell phone/smart phone as a guideline for determining whether an item is allowed in a carry-on bag.”

It’s a headache for business travelers, who will be forced to check company laptops in the luggage hold. But it also forces airline employees to become sudden experts in consumer electronics so they can answer the question: Is it a tablet, phablet or phone? And Samsung’s newest phone is walking a razor-thin line between all these devices. Which is exactly why this new ban is confusing for many travelers. (For reference, the Galaxy S8+ is less than an inch smaller than the smallest tablet Samsung currently sells.)

It’s not the first time airport security agents and airline employees have been tapped as the electronics police, particularly for Samsung products.

Last year, airlines and governments around the world banned the combusting, and since recalled, Samsung Galaxy Note 7s from cabins as well as luggage holds, leaving these key personnel to decipher which model was which. At least the new Galaxy S8+ looks a fair bit different than its predecessors, which should make a ban—if one’s enforced on the device—slightly simpler. Checked baggage and combusting electronic devices don’t go together. Airlines have stocked cabins with fire-containment bags, but devices in stowed bags are often out of reach.

The new electronics ban’s sudden implementation and seeming randomness (headphones larger than a smartphone are also prohibited in US-bound flights from the 10 airports the US government has designated) has its critics. On Tuesday (March 28), the head of the International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents global airlines, said it was “difficult to understand [the restrictions’] effectiveness.”

So, can you fly with the new phone? Airlines may err on the side of caution, like they’ve done with wireless headphones under the ban.

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