Flying into the U.S. from Europe? You're free to use a laptop...for now.
Yesterday, U.S. and European officials meeting in Brussels decided to postpone a ban on laptops, but that could change in the near future. Next week, there will be additional talks in Washington about imposing the ban on more incoming international flights. Reports seem divided about whether that might happen.
Today, if you're on one of 10 inbound flights from places like Amman, Jordan and Cairo, Egypt you can't use a device that's bigger than a laptop. (Read: You can only use a smartphone.) That ban was imposed in March.
If a new ban goes into effect, flights on airlines like British Airways and Lufthansa could be impacted. Yet, according to a few security experts I've talked to, there may be a way to keep right on working, if you pick the right gadget to use on the flight.
Nathan Wenzler, the Chief Security Strategist at AsTech Consulting, told me you might be able to bring a portable Bluetooth keyboard...but it's a bit doubtful. One of my favorite models is the Logitech K810, which works with any Bluetooth phone and apps like Pages on the iPhone or the Google Docs app on Android (and Google Drive for saving your files). It's light and portable, and since it's not an "electronics" device like a laptop, it might work.
Still, be prepared to have to hand it over to security agents.
"It's possible that the TSA, customs officer or some other law enforcement officer involved may interpret the ban as meaning 'anything large enough to conceal an explosive device,' and make the call to forbid a Bluetooth or other portable keyboards," says Wenzler. "While the ban doesn't specifically state it, I don't think it's too far-fetched that someone would interpret it that way."
A better option: You might be able to bring a larger smartphone (also known as a phablet), but you may end up getting into a debate with the agents. I'd try a Google Pixel XL smartphone and type documents like you're texting or use a voice recording app like this one. The Pixel XL definitely looks like a phone, but has a 5.5-inch screen that's big enough to see a document in an app like Microsoft Word Mobile.
"Feel free to push the argument at the security line that a keyboard, portable battery or any other piece of electronics bigger than a smartphone (whichever size smartphone they decide upon) is considered a risk," says Chris Roberts, a Chief Security Architect at security firm Acalvio. "Then be prepared to argue it at every different airport differently and prepare for someone to say your XL smartphone is a tablet and it'll get banned."
In my experience on countless flights over the years, the size guidelines will dictate what you can bring on board. It's mostly a guessing game. Agents know--if it is bigger than a normal smartphone, you can't use it on the plane.
That's why, to be safe, here's the best option for a flight that bans laptops. I'd bring the Equil Smartpen 2. This digital pen works with a paper pad and looks like a normal ink pen. But when you write on the notepad, the pen records everything digitally. You can write an entire business plan or emails to your staff on the flight.
Since the laptop ban is still so new, if you have more details about what has worked on international flights into the U.S., share them on my Twitter feed.