No Laptop Ban Coming for European Flights!!

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.

A month ago word leaked that the U.S. was considering extending the ban to flights from Europe. Three 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 — 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.

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, 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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  1. Great news comes with bad as the Donald meets with an exTSA chief to possibly fill the FBI Director job…

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this was a negotiating play by the US to get Europe to share more security intel with the US (which they got) and to see some other security measures put into place that the US felt they wanted to see.

  3. I’m all for good effective real security. If there is such a threat from laptops and cameras, and I think there very well may be, find a real way to check them, don’t just pile them all together out of sight. It is time we got real security, not security theater. I want my family safe, so how about doing things that make that happen instead of having obviously poorly thought out security measures that may increase the risks rather than reducing them.

  4. We can thank the Europeans for having a spine. I can imagine the EU was in no mood to give into any more demands after Trump blatantly insulted the EU at the NATO summit.

  5. Would it really be that difficult to implement additional measures that truly work to detect bombs in laptops/tablets etc..?
    How about waiving GE members and making everyone else subject their devices to further checks?
    Yeah, it’ll slow a few lines down but it beats making everyone give up their stuff.

  6. It’s odd you keep implying that the attacks in Paris and Brussels were on planes (or post security). Surely you know they were in the lobby of the airport, which isn’t secured. But that doesn’t fit your narrative of this post or the previous one.

    In those attacks, the target was others in the lobby in one case (Brussels), and was police offers themselves (Paris). Not airplanes. Not laptops. Not thing in the air.

    We know you’re smart enough to know this. And you should know we’re smart enough not to be mislead. Make your case as is (it’s usually strong enough). Just don’t make up stuff.

  7. @RM – I do not imply that at all, in fact I’ve made the case over and over again that the fact those were done before security means checkpoint theater doesn’t keep us safe, that if anything we want to move people as quickly as possible through the checkpoint.

  8. Thank you, RM, for your post. I was about to write the same thing.

    And no, Gary, you won’t wiggle yourself out of that. The way you stated it in your article makes a clear link between those attacks on citizens (may I remind you, that at the same time in Brussels there was a bomb detonated in a subway station, a fact you conveniently leave out) and security checks at airports. These two things have nothing to do with each other. These people did not pass the security checks, they did not get on board of an aircraft!

    Just sounding good doesn’t make it right. Stick with teh facts!

  9. Good post, Gary, but as I’ve pointed out previously the security protocols at Lagos are far more thorough than most US airports. And the Boko types don’t have any juice outside the North and certainly not in Christian-dominated Lagos. Perhaps you are just having flashbacks to those warning signs that we used to see at DCA …

  10. It was time to upgrade my phone. I went for an iPhone 7 Plus. Normally I wouldn’t have gone for the plus (wider) version, but if they ever do implement the ban I want to be able to read via the kindle app.

  11. @Alex I’m talking about the one last summer at the airport last spring, I’m not sure what the subway bomb suggests here other than that the more you harden airports the more you push attacks elsewhere as well (so little net gain).

    I raise Brussels and Paris airport attacks to show that there are determined terrorists interested in those airports, not that they got past security. You’re overreading here. And as I say, the fact that they detonated outside security underscores my point that you don’t want to back up security checkpoints with more procedures you want to get people through those checkpoints quickly or else you create an appetizing target for terrorists.

  12. @Dave – they don’t use x-rays; those are deemed to be too dangerous and bad for humans. The body scanners are passive.

  13. @John, the body scanners are most definitely not passive.

    Some of the ones in use by TSA were actually X-ray machines, but that has not been the case for a few years. All currently-used body scanners in the US use millimeter wave, non-ionizing radiation (scare word!!! but it’s really no different than a radio). Passive scanners theoretically do exist but on not in use at any airports in the US and probably not anywhere in the world.

  14. Perhaps our European counterparts said well if it unsafe from Europe we should have the same rules to Europe which got the Administration to rethink…

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