Traveling to and from the U.S. continues to be complicated. Even with its recent significant publicity, this is a trend that started many years ago. For now, let’s put aside the recent Supreme Court ruling, which might not be important to your travel plans. However, if you are traveling to or from the U.S. soon, understanding the other current rules is important. It is also helpful to know how the rules came to pass and how they could impact your travel plans this summer.
History of U.S. Travel Restrictions
Throughout this country’s history, there have been times of travel restrictions. Events like the Civil War, World War I, and World War II caused such limits. Typically, the restrictions came in the form of presidential executive actions. It wasn’t until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that there was an actual law on travel restrictions put into place by Congress and signed by the president.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also called the McCarran-Walter Act, was enacted into law on June 27, 1952. President Harry Truman had vetoed the bill when it arrived on his desk, but both the House and Senate overrode the veto and the bill became the law of the land.
President Truman, in his memo to Congress regarding the veto, acknowledged that “a general revision and modernization of these laws unquestionably is needed and long overdue, particularly with respect to immigration.” However, he took exception to what he called “a mass of legislation which would perpetuate injustices of long standing against many other nations of the world, hamper the efforts we are making to rally the men of East and West alike to the cause of freedom, and intensify the repressive and inhumane aspects of our immigration procedures.”
The fact that we are hearing very similar statements from people now, 65 years later, shows the complexity of the issue. While things have evolved, on the one hand, they have also stayed the same. The evolution of immigration policy is not the subject here. However, it is important to note that the issue has never been resolved and, so, it will most likely continue to be an issue for many years.
Changes to immigration policy also cause changes to airport security measures, so it is important to take a look at them and then see how they have evolved. It is also significant to evaluate how recent changes, and those anticipated, will continue to impact how we approach air travel, especially travel to and from destinations outside of the U.S.
Even though there was a then-comprehensive immigration act passed in 1952, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that people started to focus on security. This was after a string of high-profile hijackings occurred around the world. Since then, and especially after the attacks of 9/11 (September 11, 2001), many more measures have been implemented. After each major security breach, there are lots of headlines. Airlines and governments implement more rules and restrictions. Often, these seem more damaging to passengers than to the terrorists they are trying to stop.
Originally, there was very little security at airports, but after there was a greater focus on safety, the evolution picked up speed. After the hijackings of the late 1960s and the first terrorist attack in the mid-1970s, security measures were implemented. These included things like x-ray machines and metal detectors. They could also entail interviews or checks from security screeners. At the time, private companies were contracted for airport security work. They then hired screeners to complete such work.
After 9/11, security measures kicked into high gear. Now, changes are implemented often and quickly. Many times, changes come without prior notice to the public. This is presumably to try to trip up potential terrorists, but it often results in headaches for otherwise unsuspecting travelers.
What Are Some of the Changes We Might Be Seeing?
These days, airport security for an international flight looks something like this. We will assume the person is not enrolled in some sort of traveler program from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Screening starts at the airline check-in counter or possibly through mobile check-in. With mobile check-in, some airlines use a photo-scan of the passport via a smartphone. They confirm passport information and then confirm mobile check-in. At the airport, airline staff and/or TSA officers do another check. They confirm that the passenger has indeed brought the required passport and any other necessary travel documents to the airport.
Security screening is the same for international flights as for domestic flights. There is an exception for certain flights destined to the Middle East and Northern Africa. These flights have not allowed laptop computers in aircraft cabins since March of this year. This is due to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) restrictions. But, just yesterday, DHS cleared Etihad Airways to allow laptops back on board on flights between Abu Dhabi and the U.S.
On its website, Etihad has announced, “The US Immigration facility at Abu Dhabi Airport allows you to clear US immigration and customs formalities before you fly to the US, instead of after landing. Additional security checks also mean you can now take all your electronic devices safely on board with you.”
“Shoes off and laptops out” is the directive for most travelers after they have had travel documents checked by TSA agents (or similar if traveling back to the U.S. from a foreign location). Also, a 1-quart zip bag for liquids in 100ml or less (3.4 ounces) containers. If you want to bring e-cigarettes, they must be in your carry-on. There is still a ban on Samsung Galaxy Note 7s, which went into effect in October of last year. Of course, there are definitely other things you cannot take with. If you have questions, be sure to check the TSA website.
DHS has announced that other travel restrictions or rules may be forthcoming. For instance, it announced earlier this year that laptop bans may be coming for flights bound from other international locations. This depends on whether that particular government is able to ensure that DHS-required security checks are implemented. So, while restrictions were lifted for Abu Dhabi International, they may be forthcoming for other locations.
TSA has steps for easy travel. For international travel, they include the following.
- Make sure that your travel documents match, passports to boarding passes.
- Don’t bring prohibited items to the airport.
- Arrive early, three hours for international flights.
- Be prepared to go through security, keeping in mind the items previously mentioned.
Despite the current restrictions and more that may be coming (think book screening rumors), international travel can still be successfully navigated. And, if you really hate it, just try to think of where that travel might be taking you: a bucket-list trip, a tropical paradise, a much-anticipated family get-together. Thinking these good thoughts and dreaming these good dreams might just get you through any nightmares that international travel could entail. And, remember, these security measures, no matter what we think of them, are meant to make travel safer (but not necessarily smoother).
[Featured Image by Jon Gambrell/AP Images]