How To Properly Fly With Electronics

Some electronics professionals have to fly relatively frequently. One such person, [Steve Hoefer] shares with us how to properly fly with your exposed wires and bits without getting nabbed by the TSA for suspicion of being a terrorist. The article is fairly in depth with tips on how to handle most situations including being pulled aside and put in a tiny room for questioning. Most of it boils down to the fact that you can’t expect the TSA agents to be experts in everything. They see stuff that is slightly out of the norm, they have to follow up. We’re not talking about pat-downs and body scanners here, we’re talking about circuit boards, duct tape, and battery packs.

One story [Steve] shares is especially humorous. He noted that the servos had been disconnected from one of his robots. He wonders, why disconnect them? If they were suspected of being an explosive, they shouldn’t have messed with them. If they weren’t… why did they un-plug them?

14 thoughts on “How To Properly Fly With Electronics

  1. I am an embedded systems engineer that works from home. My plant is 3 states away so I fly often, and have to bring prototypes with me. I have never been given a second look. The only time I got extra screening I didn’t have anything like this with me. I forgot to remove an external HD. I remember bringing an Oscilloscope through and one of the agents asking me how I liked that brand/model. His brother was looking for one, just having completed his degree. I didn’t bring the power cord, a standard pc cord, and packed it in my suit case. I was terrified they were going to make me turn it on.

    1. mines a similar story, the only thing i’ve ever been dinged on was that i bought a new tektronix scope from frys, and flew out of burbank, it was still sealed so they asked me to open it, asked what it was and that was it.

      i fly all over with all sorts of crazy electronics and test equipment for car tuning and such, most of the time since its guys they’ll just start talking about cars.

  2. The post grew out of a conversation I had with Steve based on my experience (read: fear) of flying with a microcontroller. It’s a great write-up, and has advice I’ll use in the future. The one thing I’ve learned from dealing with the TSA the last few years is that there is no consistency, so I’m more than willing to provide consistency on my end if it can smooth my travels a bit.

    1. Indeed, this post is a refreshingly rational one. I think one of the key points that is said in subtext, but isn’t actually stated: The TSA people are people, too.

      I’ve found that treating the TSA employees with the same respect I’d treat anyone else results in a significant lack of problems all around.

  3. ‘Reminds me of a situation years ago. We couldn’t get time stations out in the Sahara Desert to set seismometer clocks, so I built a traveling clock into an ammo box. I gave it the ability to detonate explosives at a precisely known time to calibrate seismic array velocities, complete with the flip up red toggle switch safety shield, and terminals for the blasting cap line. The scientists left San Fran and came through LA to pick up my creation on the way to their destination, Cairo. As luck would have it, this was right after the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt. Boy was it an interesting scene to get an olive drab 30 cal. ammo box with a gel cell inside (which x-rayed as a dense chunk with two wires coming out), complete with protected switch and blasting cap terminals, past airport security and onto a flight to Cairo just after a war! Meanwhile, two guys in suits, sweating in fear of missing their flight, are standing with worried looks and outstretched hands. My! I really had to do some seriously fast talking that day! (Yes, it got on the plane and worked as planned in the desert.) Whew!

  4. Great article, if you make your stuff look as non-threatening as possible and if you provide clear information along with the stuff to tell the security people exactly what it is, you will have less problems.

    Its much easier on the TSA if they can say “the guy who packed this says its xyz, all we need to do is verify that its xyz and we can move on” than if they have no clue what it is and have to try and figure it out on their own.

  5. I once had to travel to Israel for work. I had to carry some equipment visually similar to that described and due to the hurry in which I was sent, I didn’t have any of the relevant paperwork or really anything except the name of the customer. The situation was not helped by my Iranian origin.

    Fortunately, by the time passport control were done questioning me about my family tree and role within my company (didn’t help that I had no idea what my grandfather’s profession had been, or why my employer had chosen to send a placement student (intern) instead of someone more experienced), the customs guys had all finished and gone home, so I got through unscathed.

    However, on the way back I did get searched, the equipment was examined while I was led away and strip searched (I’ve not been quite so scared as when an Israeli man who wore an expression suggesting potential learning difficulties put on a rubber glove and instructed me to remove my trousers).

    They managed to steal part of the equipment and my keys, could have been worse though. Lucky I didn’t run into the same passport control guys who I had two-weeks ago assured I would only be in the country for 2 days (the customer refused to let me leave, but that’s another story).

    In future when asked to travel for work, I may choose to have “lost” my passport and be unable to do so.

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