Laptop Ban Still Coming for Europe Flights — And for Flights Departing U.S. Too

The U.S. implemented a ban on electronics larger than a cell phone as carry on items for flights departing from several airports that no U.S. airlines fly from back in March.

The most charitable case for the ban — that has been interpreted to include electric toothbrushes and noise cancelling headphones — was that there was credible intelligence that terrorists were trying to hide bombs inside of iPads, and that those would be harder to detonate inside a cargo hold than in the hands of a suicide bomber on the aircraft.

Yet looking at the same intelligence, foreign allies of the U.S. didn’t mirror the ban (the U.K. adopted a more limited one from fewer countries). The U.S. didn’t include airports like Lagos, Nigeria (the major international departure point for Boko Haram). And they didn’t include airports like Baku, Azerbaijan (making it easy to fly Dubai – Baku – New York JFK).

And they didn’t include European airports, suggesting that those airports were safer (despite actual airport attacks in Paris and Brussels). It was a strange claim consider that electronics-banned Abu Dhabi is a US preclearance departure point, meaning that the US is intimately involved in managing security and so confident of the procedures there that passengers arriving off flights from the airport get off in the U.S. as though coming from a domestic city with no further security or immigration controls.

A month ago word leaked that the U.S. was considering extending the ban to flights from Europe. A couple of weeks ago there were credible reports that the ban was days away.

In fact, Delta even had signs made and deployed.

However European governments objected — despite seeing the intelligence they viewed it as absurd — and consultations ensued.

The electronics ban on flights from Europe was reported to be off the table, though I wrote it was at least as likely just delayed.

Not only isn’t a ban on electronics on flights from Europe to the U.S. dead, according to the Homeland Security Secretary it may be extended to flights departing the U.S. too.

When asked whether it is true that he has hinted the laptop ban could expand to US soil, Kelly said that those characterizations of his thinking are accurate.

“No, they didn’t misread me,” he answered. “I would tell you that the threats against passenger aviation worldwide are constant. The good news is that we have great intelligence collection overseas — US intelligence collection. We also have great sharing with partners overseas. So, we are doing everything we can to get after these threats — but they are real.”

…”The protocol where we put large electronic devices down inside the cargo compartments, … I made that decision based on intelligence from a certain part of the world — sophisticated threats,” Kelly said Friday. “We are now looking at kind of a worldwide hard look at raising the bar, the minimum bar, on aviation security. So, still contemplating extending the ban, as we work with partners.”
He added, “We will make a decision when the time is right.”

The intelligence was ‘from a certain part of the world’ but we might as well ‘raise the bar’ on passenger inconvenience and risk of fire in cargo holds worldwide, according to Secretary Kelly, as long as we can ‘work with partners’ to extend the stupidity.

Implementation delays (until ‘the time is right’) suggest that the threat isn’t as existential as previously portrayed by the US administration. The lack of policy mirroring abroad over the past two months (though the US has pressured Australia to follow suit and they’ve said they’re considering it) also is suggestive that the specifics here are weak and the actual safety improvements from such a policy modest… at best.

Although making the ban reciprocal may be a way of getting European governments onboard. It was unacceptable to ban laptops on flights to the U.S. suggesting European security was somehow insufficient. But as long as the laptop ban can inconvenience customers in both directions there is no diplomatic slap at Europe, security theater is equally applied, then European governments will be more likely to government.

Of course when laptop batteries catch fire in the cargo hold, we’re toast.

And the cost to the economy – estimated at a billion dollars – is surrendering to the terrorists we supposedly want to be protected from. Reduced business travel and the concomitant reduction in economic activity that follows, reduced productivity, risking exposure of data and theft of devices are all real concerns.

Airport security that can’t catch dangerous items now — even when they’re not hidden inside laptops — is a real concern. And we’re never going to be 100% safe… nor would we ever agree to do the things which could get us close to that.

Get ready to route your international travels via Canada, as long as our Northern neighbors don’t go along. Otherwise pick up a Chromebook or burner laptop and work from the cloud while abroad (don’t save any sensitive information on disposable machines that you have to check thereby leaving your data outside your possession or leaving machines vulnerable to theft or installation of malware).

(HT: Lufthansa Flyer)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I’m baffled why placing potential bombs in the cargo hold is supposedly any safer? Are cargo holds are somehow stronger? Or perhaps being surrounded by other luggage might suppress the effects of a blast?

  2. Gary – you’ve made it clear you don’t like TSA (you’ve used the same silly Lego pic for years now), nor any methods that anyone suggests for trying to keep the skies safer. You are not privy to the same intelligence that those in charge of national security are. If not using a laptop for 8 hours out of your life is that bothersome, then bring a good book on your next flight. The rest of us will adjust just fine.

  3. Heh? A semtex or C4 in electronic toothbrush or even noise cancelling bose? Maybe the next ban is a religious person since they can actually be a shaman or wizard/witch who can put curse to pilot to crash the plane….

  4. Tim, there are many of us that use our lap tops on a regular basis, work, reading seeking information like it or not it’s the world we have created. My international travel tend to be very long haul ( 12 to 16 hrs. ) and I run a company so my lap top is important even on vacation on safari

  5. @tim: you do understand that it is easier to hide an explosive material in a thick book rather than macbook air isn’t it?

  6. No, I won’t adjust just fine. As Gary and countless others have mentioned, it’s not about not having access to a computer on the plane. I’m flying from New York to Hong Kong next month for business and I can’t wait to not use my computer on the plane. But I refuse to submit to the inconvenience and risk of theft or damage implicit in being forced to send my computer behind the scenes. I’ll take a bus to Canada and fly from there if I have to.

    Seth

  7. @tim – other countries that have seen the intelligence haven’t felt the need to follow the US on these bans for two months. The US has said this isn’t new intel, and that the capabilities come out of Yemen. It’s clear that — regardless of the intelligence, which I have posited was real from the very start — the methods used by the US in response make us less safe rather than more safe.

    and no one is merely suggesting ‘inconvenience’ here, it’s risk of espionage and disruption to the world economy that we’re imposing on ourselves which is more than terrorists could even hope for.

    but as they say, sheep gonna sheep.

  8. @Confuzed – indeed, on the contrary placing lithium ion batteries which are a long known fire risk into the cargo hold is more dangerous because the fires cannot easily be contained

  9. While I’m inclined to believe a laptop ban will be an unnecessary pain in the butt (if there’s a real security threat from these devices, there MUST be a better solution than putting them in the hold), I don’t think the “impact on air travel” will be particularly severe. AA CFO recently made the following comments at a conference, as reported by the Dallas News:

    American Airlines chief financial officer Derek Kerr told investors Thursday much of the challenge from a potential ban would be figuring out the process for handling the laptops and safely stowing them in the cargo hold.
    He said that while it might cause disruption in the near term and convince some businesses to take fewer trips, he predicted companies and their business travelers would adjust.
    “’Are you going to not take the trip because now I have four or five hours without a laptop?’” he asked at a conference in Boston. “I’m not sure what the impact on revenues is going to be going forward and how companies are going to treat it. I think companies still have to fly; they still have to go and do the trip.”

  10. @iahphx

    And Kerr doesn’t quite get it. First, there aren’t many international flights to/from the US that are “four or five hours”. Most of European flights are at least 7, and if you’re going to Asia, some are double that.

    It’s also about the risk of theft or damage when the electronics are outside my possession. I used to be a baggage handler, and trust me, if procedures don’t change, there is no way in hell I would check a laptop.

    As a side note, one of the reasons people pay for business class is to actually work on a flight. This starts to matter on 12 hour flights, or even 8 hour flights westbound out of Europe. So, those trips may get taken, but not in business class where the $ is.

  11. @iahphx – I wrote about that talk, I think he’s being super flip, and several airline executives worldwide disagree. We are seeing the effect on Gulf carrier traffic on US routes already. Several folks aren’t going to ‘not take the trip because they can’t be without their laptop for 5 hours’ they will transit canada or not take the trip because security protocols do not allow them to check laptops as luggage over risk of theft or exposing machines to third parties who could install key logging malware.

    in any case we know that burdens on business travel empirically do reduce business travel. kerr is just wrong that people fly no matter what the cost of doing so.

  12. Well to say other countries have seen the same intelligence and haven’t reacted the same way doesn’t mean anything. They also saw the same civil war in Syria and did nothing to fight it and decided allowing refugees into Europe by the millions was a good idea. Now they have mass rape, sharia districts, and 10 times the number of lone wolf attacks.

  13. Gary, which other countries have seen the same intelligence? You used to claim that AUS/NZ/UK/CAN saw the same intel, but that isn’t necessarily true if it was passed from a third country (such as Israel) which the news is portraying. Your expertise in aviation does not extend to threats to aviation. Please leave this to the experts who have access to intelligence. I’m confident the Obama administration was on the fence whether to take very similar actions before the Inauguration.

  14. @Little Richard – even Israel is not imposing an electronics ban on flights for instance from Cairo. The intelligence has been shared by the US and foreign governments have not yet followed suit but presumably extending the ban to US departures makes it less offensive to European governments and easier for them to adopt the ban as well.

    The idea that the US intelligence apparatus has some super proprietary information and only they know the true threats here is absurd.

    However even if it were true it doesn’t come close to suggesting that the policy response does a thing to improve rather than retard safety, as the head of IATA and European pilots have made clear, and the reticence of European governments to acquiesce to the ban underscores.

    (And in any case the information reportedly hails from Yemen, so suggesting that the Mideast electronics ban was an appropriate response, bypassing Nigeria for example, is equally silly.)

    As I say sheep gonna sheep, and government gonna government.

  15. How are they planning to do this? The main security is shared with none affected flights and there is nothing at the gate

  16. ” Now they have mass rape, sharia districts, and 10 times the number of lone wolf attacks.”

    So that’s false, false and false.

    But anyway.

  17. My laptop is an old crusty 8 year Lenovo Thinkpad running Widows 7. Its market value is close to $0. If it stops working, I will buy another. I use it infrequently when I fly. However, there is no way I am turning it over to the airline. There is a 100% chance, that if I fly enough, the airlines will lose it, delay it, or break it. If they lose it, I will be worried that my personal information has been compromised. Therefore, if there is a laptop ban on flying to/from Europe, I don’t fly there, PERIOD.

  18. I’m a photographer and when I travel internationally I take a couple of Nikon camera bodies and several lenses – total value about $13,000. Now these morons what to make me send all this equipment through as checked baggage. They’re are nuts. Do you think TSA or the airlines will compensate me for damaged, lost or stolen equipment? Fat chance. It’s time to get some people in charge of airport security that have some common sense and know what they are doing

  19. I continue to believe that since they have the ban on certain airports, they should do it everywhere. Unfortunately, I think they have to go through that stage, to realize how outrageous such bans are, and rethink the whole idea. The common sense component is missing on such bans.

    On the other hand, we are talking about large government here and common sense does not mean anything to them.
    –I still cannot bring my 105ml hard contact solution on the plane. I have had them taken away. I usually put a supply in my checked bag. When the airline lost my bag for a week when I was in Thailand, I ran out of hard contact solution. Few people wear hard contacts in Thailand, I could not find replacement. I had to use soft contact solution that does not work nearly as well. How long has this stupid ban been in place. –I still have to take off my shoes whenever I cannot use TSA preferred. Like seriously, they probably think had a shoe phone in my phone like Maxwell Smart.
    –I recently had my bag searched for paper.
    –I still have to go through nude-a-scopes from time-to-time.
    I keeps on getting more and more absurd.

  20. @Gerald. Totally agree. Your equipment might look ok. But when you return, you notice that the pictures are not so clear. I am thinking like how a boxer becomes punch drunk. If you shake the camera enough, it stops functioning as well.

  21. I’m going to short airline stocks if this nutcase policy is impemented. And I will double down on it if it is also implemented on domestic flights.
    Bye bye AAL, DAL, and UAL.

  22. Gary,

    This is quite the statement, care to back it up?

    “The U.S. didn’t include airports like Lagos, Nigeria (the major international departure point for Boko Haram).”

    Abuja would be the most logical departure point for BH, as Lagos is just too far from where they operate. Yes, there are no direct US flights from here (as Delta is the only carrier), but one could go ABV>Europe>USA easily. This would be another point for the Europe ban…

  23. ABV’s Paris service is non-daily, no service to Amsterdam, Lufthansa has no Munich service and non-daily service to Frankfurt, Lagos remains the main international gateway city for Nigeria. And if your point is connecting flights then it fundamentally undermines the initial Mideast airport focus. Once you add connecting flights that becomes an argument not for a Europe ban but a worldwide ban because of a movie theater plot.

  24. There are a lot of things Chromebooks cannot do like use a full featured Office suite that’s needed for importing Fonts, etc.

  25. @Gerald – I agree completely, even if you can package a hard case inside a suitcase to hopefully deter theft, as well. This ban may destroy travel like photo safaris in Africa, in addition to harming news travel and pro photo travel. Laptops aren’t the only gear affected.

  26. If this ban happens and becomes the new normal, it will create a couple of new business opportunities. I predict airport kiosks that allow folks to ship their laptops and cameras home vial DHL and FedEx. I also predict a laptop rental service catering to business travelers. You might be able to pick up your rental upon arrival after security, or they might deliver it to you at your hotel. Laptops rentals might also be an area for car rental companies to explore. Prior to the trip you could book your laptop and specify the software that you need loaded on it.

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