Travellers using American airports are facing a new obstacle with Transport Security Administration (TSA) officials asking them to remove snacks and powders from their carry-on luggage.
The latest step in the ever-tightening security arrangements surrounding travel in the US is not an official policy but is being enforced by officers at many airports across the country.
Responsibility for security on aircraft and at airports is vested with the TSA, while monitoring and vetting people seeking to enter the US is handled by Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.
Requests to remove snacks and powders have been made at a number of major hubs including Newark, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, leading to security delays as the US tourism season gathers pace.
The changes have seen passengers told to put food they had bought to eat onboard the aircraft into separate bins for further inspection.
On at least one occasion the delay has been long enough to cause a passenger to miss a flight. The changes have also caused confusion, especially among travellers who are not native English speakers.
“There’s no new policy regarding the screening of food. However, removing these items may assist our officers in getting a clearer view of the bag, reducing the number of additional inspections needed,” the TSA said.
According to the TSA, food in carry-on bags can make it harder for bags to be screened.
Tighter rules have also seen passengers required to put powders such as those used to make up energy drinks into an individual bin. Passengers with large quantities of powder are advised to pack it into their hold luggage.
The TSA’s official line is that it is constantly changing security methods to tackle what it describes as an evolving terrorist threat.
“Terrorists are constantly trying to pack explosives into small everyday items,” a TSA spokesman told the Telegraph.
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It is against this backdrop that the former Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly, announced enhanced screening of larger electronic devices such as iPads and laptops last year. They now have to be put in separate bins for inspection by TSA officials.
These latest restrictions come on top of the requirement to remove footwear for inspection, which has been in force ever since Richard Reid tried to hide an explosive in a specially adapted pair of shoes in 2001 in an attempt to bring down a transatlantic flight.
At the same time, the Trump administration has also toughened immigration rules, instructing CBP officials to vet arrivals more closely.
Several British tourists, including a teacher from South Wales, have fallen foul of the administration’s increased scrutiny of Muslim visitors.
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Other changes have seen the US demand that visa applicants hand over details of their social media accounts. Although this does not normally apply to British tourists on the visa-waiver scheme, this restriction can be imposed if their ESTA (Electronic System of Travel Authorization) application is rejected.
The tighter restrictions are alarming the tourist industry in the US, after a 3.3 per cent drop in traveller spending last year.
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“America isn’t winning when we’re falling behind our global competitors,” said Roger Dow, US Travel’s president. “Our goal is to make America the most secure and the most visited country on Earth — and we can do both.”