US could add more countries to electronics ban

Hannah Edensor

The US electronics ban, which caused a massive stir in the aviation industry, could be expanded to include flights in the US from the United Kingdom.

According to reports from The Guardian, the Trump administration is considering a ban similar to the one imposed on large carry-on electronics from several Middle Eastern countries and major airlines, which would bar travellers from taking any device larger than a smartphone onto flights.

Per The Guardian, British officials understand the US government is looking to extend the ban to flights from Europe also.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Homeland Security, told the publication, “We’ve said we will continue to evaluate the threat environment and make determinations based on that assessment, but we have not made any decisions on expanding the current restrictions against large electronic devices in aircraft cabins from selected airports.”

Meanwhile, transport secretary Chris Grayling has denied that the UK ban on laptops implied that airport security in the countries affected meant their airport security was lax.

Per The Guardian, last month researcher Nicholas Weaver claimed, “It doesn’t match a conventional threat model. If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold.”

The initial ban was abruptly instigated in late March, covering 10 airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

It also affected nine airlines, including Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad.

In March, the UK followed the US in issuing the ban from mainly Middle East countries due to increased security measures.

Passengers are not allowed in the cabin with phones, laptops or tablets larger than 16cm in length, 9.3cm width and 1.5cm in depth.

Since the ban, which raised concerns of whether travel insurance would cover damaged or stolen electronics checked in with hold luggage, Qatar and Emirates have begun offering laptop loans to Business Class passengers to allow them to continue working inflight, and checking laptops at the gate so passengers can use them up until boarding.

At a recent USTA travel security summit last week, Frances Townsend, former assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, asked if the future could result in electronics bans on domestic US flights.

Per Travel Market Report, Townsend asked, “What if that happens to U.S. domestic flights?”

“I don’t think that is out of the question. Threats morph over time. Terrorists respond. They reverse-engineer. If that same laptop checked into the belly of an international flight is put in the body of the domestic connection, that’s a threat.”

The American Society of Travel Agents also voiced concerns the US was taking drastic measures and even scaring travellers off coming to the country.

Per TMR, ASTA senior vice president of government and public affairs Eben Peck said, “While security is and must always be paramount when it comes to air travel, our members have raised a number of questions about the existing ban and its potential for disruption to business and leisure travellers, issues related to checking expensive electronics while traveling overseas and the possibility that it may spread to additional airports/carriers”.