What Happens If Your Electronic Device Cannot Turn On?

It appears that airlines may be just as foggy on the details of the new electronic device security regulations as the rest of us.

LISTEN: So what if your device is dead? FareCompare’s Rick Seaney has some ideas.

Devices Must have Power

Earlier this week the TSA announced that travelers heading to the U.S. from certain overseas airports will be randomly selected to prove their electronic device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, eReader and more) is in working order and can be powered on. In other words, the passenger is essentially being asked to prove his or her iPad really is a tablet and not an explosive device.

UPDATE: The TSA has now extended these security measures to include some U.S. airports and some domestic travelers – learn more here.

What the Airlines Say

Some airlines tell you a lot about how they’re dealing with this via alerts on websites and social media; others, not so much. What advice  does exist seems confusing. FareCompare contacted a few airlines as well as an airline trade industry organization and will update with any responses. UPDATE: A polite spokesperson from American responded by saying, ask the TSA. We did. We’ll let you know what they say.

British Airways

Britain’s flagship carrier has the toughest stance we’ve seen; in a Q&A on its website, they strongly suggest that no power means no flight for you or the device:

  • Q: If my electronic device doesn’t have any power, will I be allowed to rebook?
    A: If your device doesn’t power up when you are requested to do so, our customer services team will look after the rebooking of your travel arrangements.

This appears later in the Q&A:

  • We are considering arrangements under which you and your device might travel on separate flights, or you might travel with your device on a later flight, provided the device has charged by then.

Finally, what happens to the device?

  • Q: If my electronic device doesn’t work, can I leave it behind and will you forward it on to me?
    A: We are liaising with UK airports with a view to finding a workable solution to this issue.

In other words, who knows? At least for now.

Virgin Atlantic

This British airline also left a lot of questions. Here is what they say:

  • If, when requested, you are unable to turn your device on, you will not be able to travel with your device.

No word on what happens to the device.


The Netherlands-based carrier offers little in the way of truly useful information for U.S.-bound travelers beyond the need to get to the airport early:

  • If the device cannot be taken out of its protective sleeve and/or switched on, it will not be permitted on board the aircraft.

No word on what happens to the device.


The U.S. based carrier doesn’t say what happens to uncharged devices but does suggest more airports where they’ll be screened:

  • Effective immediately, passengers traveling on any airline to the U.S. from select airports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa should expect additional security measures relative to carry-on items. All battery-operated electronic devices intended for carry-on must be operational; any device that cannot be powered on upon screening will not be permitted onboard.

No word on what happens to the device.

What Could Happen to Your Electronics

FareCompare co-founder and travel expert Rick Seaney suggests at some point airlines and/or security will have a lot of thick envelops available to passengers for mailing uncharged devices home. But just in case  the smartphone gets tossed in Lost&Found, Seaney suggests travelers use an app that can wipe a device clean remotely (to remove credit card numbers, for example); the bad news is, you must set this up in advance.

If you are separated from your device, there’s one more place to look: A large shop in northern Alabama called The Unclaimed Baggage Center. And yes, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the name.


Updated: November 7, 2014