In March the US implemented an electronics ban for flights from select Middle Eastern countries to the US. Under this ban, passengers had to check electronic devices other than phones into the cargo holds of planes. This whole thing seemed pretty poorly thought out, both in terms of not considering the increased risk of a fire in the cargo hold, and also in terms of the countries chosen.
Fortunately in late June the US introduced new airport security measures globally, and as part of that, the electronics ban could be lifted for countries that were impacted by it. The catch is that airports would have to comply with the new security procedures before the ban would be lifted. It took airports a couple of weeks to comply, and by mid-July the electronics ban had been completely lifted. Saudia was actually the last airline to have the ban lifted.
— SAUDIA | السعودية (@Saudi_Airlines) July 19, 2017
In this case my gamble had paid off. I had booked a roundtrip Saudia first class ticket, with the outbound for travel in June, and then I intentionally planned the return for later in the year, in hopes of the electronics ban having been lifted by then. So it worked out great for me, since I just flew back from the Middle East to the US this past weekend on Saudia, and was able to take my laptop onboard.
However, as a condition of the electronics ban being lifted, there was supposed to be tighter security. Just how tight and invasive was it? Not bad at all, actually.
My flight was departing from gate 23 at Riyadh Airport. Riyadh Airport is designed so that there aren’t “sterile” gates, which is to say that they don’t really have a practical setup where you can be fully screened and then be in a small gate area that’s fully contained. So they have more of a makeshift setup — once you go through the additional security you board immediately, since there’s nowhere else for you to go.
There were all kinds of ropes set up for queuing, and there wasn’t a separate premium line.
Then there was a security checkpoint that looked the same as just about any other checkpoint you’d go through.
Once they were ready to start boarding (about 30 minutes before departure), they verified boarding passes and asked if you had any electronic devices. If you had any electronic devices, you were told to place them in a separate bin. In my case I put my laptop, camera, and phone in the bin.
At that point I was directed to go over to a table which had an explosives screening device. However, to my surprise they didn’t actually use it, as my stuff wasn’t swabbed. Instead the guy just looked at my stuff (and didn’t even turn any devices on), and then told me to proceed to the x-ray machine, where my items were screened.
To some degree they seemed to be using the honor system, as they didn’t actually search your bag to be sure there weren’t more electronics. Instead they just asked you to place them in a separate bin and then everything went through the x-ray (I suppose they could have seen items through that, though).
The process was painless, and I was through in less than a minute. In fairness, we had queued in advance so we’d be the first onboard, though by the time they started screening there was a sizable queue, so you can expect to wait a bit if you’re not among the first people.
This screening process wasn’t as involved as I was expecting. A while back I wrote about Qatar’s new enhanced security screening in Doha, where electronics have to be put in separate sealed bags, etc. That wasn’t the case here. They didn’t even swap my electronics.
I’m not sure if they only randomly swab electronics, or if they weren’t following procedure. This process was also different than I was expecting since you could board immediately after going through the checkpoint, since there was nowhere to sit.
I’m happy to see the electronics ban lifted, as it sure was nice to be able to get some work done for the 19+ hour journey back to Los Angeles.