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 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.
In fact, Delta even had signs made and deployed.
— JT Genter (@JTGenter) May 12, 2017
However European governments objected — seeing the intelligence they viewed it as absurd — and consultations ensued.
A week ago the US Homeland Security Secretary not only suggested the ban could still happen on European flights but it might be extended to flights departing the U.S. as well. It seemed as though the US was trying to appease the Europeans, get them to accept silly restrictions in the name of security as long as the US didn’t insult them in the process suggesting the ban was only necessary on flights headed to the US (that US security was either better or European-bound flights less important). It didn’t work.
The U.S. has told Europe there won’t be an electronics ban on European flights departing for the U.S. and that means there won’t be a ban on US flights departing for Europe either.
The decision was made during a conference call Tuesday afternoon between U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, sources said.
Apparently “the U.S. side took into account European concerns about the safety implications of storing devices with lithium batteries in aircraft cargo holds.” So we recognize that laptop batteries in the cargo hold can catch fire, where those fires are unlikely to be stopped. But we’re willing to continue to risk such catastrophes on flights from the Mideast to the U.S. So much for confidence in the judgment of the security state.
Nonetheless it’s an impressive reversal from the initial U.S. position of meeting “with Europeans to help them understand the terrorist threat that the U.S. was attempting to address” to be slapped down by European security officials.
The decision of course is a huge blow for Air Canada and international airlines serving Toronto and to a lesser extent Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver.
Update: While Reuters is reporting a ban is “still on the table” that doesn’t conflict with Politico‘s reporting that the ban is neither imminent nor planned. Bureaucrats would not “rule out” future action publicly, hence these reports are not at all in conflict.