Editorial Note: The electronics travel ban goes into effect Saturday, March 25, 2017.
Starting tomorrow, passengers flying from much of the Middle East and North Africa will be prohibited from carrying large electronic devices on board commercial airplanes, a new move by the Trump administration that may greatly inconvenience leisure travelers and have even broader ramifications for business travelers and the airlines themselves.
A March 21 fact sheet released by the Department of Homeland Security says the ban was prompted by government concerns about ongoing terrorist interest in targeting commercial aviation.
As a result, new security measures will require all personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smartphone to be placed in checked baggage on flights departing from 10 international airports in the Middle East and North Africa, bound for the United States.
The airports affected by the ban include major hubs in the region: Cairo, Egypt; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.; Istanbul, Turkey; Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; and Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
All passengers flying through and from these locations, regardless of citizenship, will be required to place electronic devices larger than a cell phone/ smartphone in their checked bags, according to the fact sheet.
Nine airlines are also covered by the measure; they include Egyptair, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines.
Industry reaction to the new ban has been mixed. While no one expressed criticism for efforts to increase the safety of air travel, there was at least some skepticism about the measure coming from an administration that has already attempted, unsuccessfully, through two previous executive orders to bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
“I think the skepticism this time is a reflection of the current government and the choices they’ve made. There is a lack of trust that’s happening,” said Jason Clampet co-founder and editor-in-chief at Skift, a well-known travel industry publication. “They rolled it out similar to the travel ban version; they didn’t let anyone know in advance. Of course, the government wants to keep potential violent actors on edge and not give them a heads up, but they also need to embrace their partners–the airlines and airports.”
The ban was introduced March 21. Airlines and airports were given 96 hours to comply.
The UK has since followed suit, issuing its own similar ban. The UK’s version, however, according to CNN reports, affects a slightly different set of airlines and airports. It includes flights headed to the UK from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. It omits the major airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha.
The airlines covered in the UK order include British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook, Thomson, Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Egyptair, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air, and Saudia.
Clampet said the ban will likely have more significant impacts on the business traveler than leisure travelers.
The leisure traveler will be inconvenienced by no longer being able to bring their own entertainment aboard a flight. For the business traveler, however, the requirement to check a laptop, or some other device, which may contain sensitive company information poses far more complicated issues.
“For business travelers it’s a big problem. They could be traveling with a work laptop that could have company secrets on it,” said Clampet. “Airlines always tell you not to put valuables in your suitcase. The question is, will your laptop be there at the end of trip?”
Global Rescue’s Manager of Intelligence Products and Services, Joseph Mroszczyk, pointed out that companies often have proprietary information, financial data, or health records on such electronic devices. Having to part ways with the device on a flight could pose risks.
Concerns regarding the safety and security associated with checked electronics are perhaps only the most immediate impact of the ban. The broader ramifications range from potentially decreased business for the identified airlines to less travel from the region to the US.
It has already been widely reported that interest in travel from the Middle East to the US declined after the administration’s initial attempt to implement a travel ban. Industry analyst Forward Keyes issued a report in February showing an immediate slump after that ban was announced, with bookings from the seven countries affected decreasing by 80 percent.
This latest restriction may further dampen enthusiasm to visit America.
Travelers may also reconsider which airlines they choose to fly in the future when faced with passing the time without their electronics on flights that are well more than 12 hours.
“For frequent and leisure travelers whose destinations are the affected cities, their flights are going to be less productive and entertaining,” said Hipmunk co-founder and CEO, Adam Goldstein. “For frequent travelers who were thinking of connecting in those cities or flying the affected airlines, many will think twice and choose a different routing.”
Having to check large electronics in some cases may also trigger additional bag-check fees.
Further, there’s been some question about whether it’s truly safer to limit electronics to just checked luggage, given how rigorous screening now is for carry-on bags.
However, Mroszczyk, of Global Rescue, points out that historically laptops have been a threat, with terrorist organizations such as AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) regularly seeking more innovative ways to get new explosives onto a plane.
“There is a possibility of sneaking explosives into a laptop and disguising them as a battery, so in that sense (the ban) does make travelers safer, given that it’s based on some sort of threat,” says Mroszczyk.
When issuing the ban, the Department of Homeland Security pointed to the 2015 airliner downing in Egypt, the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul.
Moving such devices to the cargo hold does make travelers somewhat safer, but does not eliminate the threat entirely, Mroszczyk says.
“It’s certainly possible to still detonate a device underneath the plane,” Mroszczyk says. “It would require a higher degree of sophistication, either a timing device or remote detonation device. It certainly is not eliminating the threat completely by moving it to checked baggage.”
The big takeaway for US citizens is that they too will be affected by the ban when traveling home from any of the identified airports. But there will be no impact on domestic flights in the US or flights departing the US. Electronic devices will continue to be allowed on board these flights.
Airports That Are Impacted
The US ban applies to the following airports: Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).
The UK ban includes inbound flights from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. It omits, however, the major airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha.
Airlines That Are Impacted
The US ban affects the following airlines: EgyptAir, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines.
The restrictions issued by the UK apply to a slightly smaller and different group of airlines:
British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook, Thomson, Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Egyptair, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air, and Saudia.
What Exactly is Banned?
According to the Department of Homeland Security statement, the following items must be checked: laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic game units larger than a smartphone, and travel printers/scanners.
Approved medical devices may still be brought onboard, but will be required to go through additional screening.
How Long Will the ban last?
The March 21 Department of Homeland Security statements says the new procedures will remain in place until the threat changes.