By Joe Brancatelli
July 10, 2014 --The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is doing business travelers a good turn. Of course, they didn't mean to be good to us. Our happy fortune is the felicitous byproduct of another ill-conceived power grab by America's most clueless and customer-repellant federal agency.

In case you missed it, the TSA abruptly announced Sunday that it will require us to power up electronic devices at certain, but unspecified, international airports. The terse announcement coming at the end of a long holiday weekend, had an additional kicker: if your device doesn't power up, then you cannot bring it on the plane.

There's so much wrong with the TSA's actions that it's hard to catalog the absurdities.

  • If the supposed terrorists who have allegedly developed new bombs that elude traditional detection methods are that clever, how hard would it be for them to wire screens of electronic devices to light up and feign power?
  • What about the "inert" accessories we carry? Laptop batteries and phone chargers, to name just two. Why wouldn't the terrorists stash bombs in those things, thus foiling the heightened inspections?
  • Why can't we be told at which international airports this annoying new protocol may be applied? (From the first eyewitness accounts I've received, the new electronics rules are in effect London's Heathrow Airport, Paris' Charles deGaulle, Amsterdam and Zurich, but not Barcelona. This is, obviously, an incomplete list.)
  • What's to say that the TSA won't apply this rule to all international flights headed to the United States and, then, eventually, to domestic travel? After all, that's what happens to the 2006 liquids ban and the 3-1-1 rules about toiletries.

"There is no simple eye wash that the TSA can use to demonstrate its vigilance against such attacks," a management consultant and security expert told me by email after the agency's new rule went into effect. "If I were half as worried about bombs as I am about TSA, I might call their attention to chargers and power supplies, and other such sealed but inert devices."

In other words, it's another round of "security kabuki," the purpose of which is to reassure us that the TSA is on guard against another amorphous and unprovable terrorism threat. And, of course, the way that the TSA convinces you of its readiness is to annoy the hell out of you at airport checkpoints with extremely dubious, but highly visible, screening rituals. Take off your shoes. Take off your belt. Toiletries out. And, now, turn on that oh-so-dangerous iPad and scary smartphone.

So where's that good TSA turn I mentioned? Just this: Now that it could be extremely annoying to get personal electronic devices through security, maybe we'll finally commit to dragging fewer of them on the road.

I urged you to trim the tech most recently in March, but I've been railing for years about the high cost of being high maintenance about on-the-road electronics.

How many smartphones do you need to carry on a business trip? Do you really need a tablet and a laptop? Ebook readers? Portable music players? Personal internet hotspots? External storage devices? Cameras? Hand-held games? What about those of us who also schlep external speakers or printers? And how many power bricks, extra batteries and external chargers and cables does it take to keep those devices juiced?

One tech-heavy business traveler I know this week detailed what he carries on an average trip: two laptops, an iPad, three mobile phones, Google Glass and portable speakers.

"I know it is a total amateur traveler move," he admitted before I could admonish him. Then he added in his own defense: "Honestly, it all fits the way I have organized everything and my carry-on is not bulging or too big."

Now that it isn't a matter of being too big, though, it's time to seriously make concessions to business-travel reality. Here are a few ways to lose some electronics.

Ditch the book reader Kindles and their ilk are easily abandoned. There are smartphone, tablet and laptop apps that do the job just as well. I recently reread The Forsyte Saga on my Android smartphone using the Kindle app. It was "simply topping," as a John Galsworthy's character said in another context.

Hang up on multiple phones C'mon, fellow travelers, few of us could afford one 20 years ago. Do we really need to be dragging around so many now? Except in the most extreme circumstances, one smartphone should cover it. There are plenty of services that allow you to forward all your numbers to one device (google "call forwarding"). Operations such as Google Voice and RingCentral bristle with nifty phone tricks. And if you must, buy a smartphone with the capacity to use dual SIM cards and two numbers.

Don't duplicate Unless you're a professional photographer, ditch the dedicated camera and rely on the one built into your smartphone. Ditto for music players. And if having a mobile hotspot is so important, invest in a smartphone with hotspot capabilities.

Go to the cloud I'm not one who believes in throwing everything up to the cloud, but when we're talking about stuff we can ditch on the road, virtual storage is heaven sent. No need to carry flash memory or external hard drives. Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud are fine. If neither of those suffices, try Dropbox.

Answer the existential question Only you can decide whether you are a tablet person or a laptop person. No cheating: As a business traveler, with the TSA breathing down our power cords, we have to make a choice. It's one or the other if you're serious about minimizing the TSA time suck. I currently carry an ultra-light laptop, so I find a tablet repetitive. Your mileage may vary. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to work toward tablets replacing laptops and many reviews say the Surface Pro 3 is getting close. And Asus is now selling a 5-inch smartphone that docks with and powers a 9-inch tablet.

ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.