NO ELECTRONICS ON BOARD US electronics ban only targets some carriers

Posted on 03/22/2017 | About United States

The US government is ordering passengers on nonstop, US-bound flights from a handful of mostly Middle Eastern and North African countries to pack electronic devices other than cellphones in their checked bagged.

Senior Trump administration officials said that starting Tuesday morning airlines flying directly to the United States from 10 airports in eight countries, only cellphones and smartphones will be allowed in the passenger cabin of US-bound flights. Other electronics, including laptops and tablets, will be indefinitely banned from the passenger cabin.

The officials said the airlines would have 96 hours to implement the security order or face being barred from flying to the United States. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the security ban despite Donald Trump's repeated insistence that anonymous source should not be trusted.

50 flights a day could cause repercussions

The electronics ban affects flights from international airports in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. About 50 flights a day, all on foreign carriers, will be impacted. The officials said no US-based airlines have non-stop flights from those cities to the United States.

US government officials say their order will affect about 50 flights a day - there are about 2,100 airline flights to the US each day, according to the Department of Transportation.

More than half of the affected flights are operated by three Middle Eastern carriers: Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. They are growing rapidly and adding new destinations in the US from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, two of the countries covered by the electronics measure.

All three have built their business on routing long-haul international traffic through their desert hubs rather than relying on the smaller local markets. And they are big buyers of Boeing and Airbus planes.

Etihad passengers at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates go through a passport-inspection facility staffed by US Customs and Border Protection agents - the only one of its kind in the Middle East - allowing them to arrive in the US as if they were on a domestic flight. That arrangement, however, was not enough to spare the airport from being covered by the new security measure.

The security order comes as the biggest three US airlines - American, Delta and United - lobby the Trump administration to crack down on those Middle Eastern rivals, whom the US carriers accuse of getting unfair subsidies from their governments that let them undercut US airlines on fares.

A senior US government official told reporters the security order was not related to the dispute.

“It may not have been directed at the three Gulf airlines, but there will be collateral damage to those carriers,” Harteveldt said. “The question is how much.”

But, if the security measure causes passengers to fly home through Europe, the beneficiaries are likely to be US airlines or their European partners, who operate many flights to the US from London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and other transportation hubs.

For now, the Gulf airlines are not protesting publicly. But if the security measure drives customers away, Harteveldt said they could retaliate by cancelling orders to buy US-made planes from Boeing Co.

And there are serious concerns

The new security measure is leading travellers to reconsider their plans to fly through some airports in the Middle East and Africa.

The orders are a serous concern for business travellers, journalists and other professionals who work on the devices and use them to store sensitive information. Tourism officials worry that the orders could heighten people's fears of an attack and discourage them from travelling.

Jonathan Grella, an executive vice-president for the US Travel Association, said he hopes that the government is trying to make travel more secure, not to suppress it, and that the US still welcomes business and leisure visitors.

Analysts said some travellers who want to keep their devices with them will switch to flights that reach the US from Europe or Asia, even if it means an extra connection.

For business travellers, the ban on laptops in the cabin “is a potential productivity killer,” said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York. “If you were planning to work on the flight, you've just burned 14 hours of your day.”

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst in San Francisco, said some companies forbid employees from putting expensive company property such as laptops in checked bags, where theft is always a risk.

Making matters worse for passengers, most airlines say in their policies that they don't cover or they limit compensation for expensive items such as electronics that are placed in checked bags.

Naureen Shah, senior director of Campaigns at Amnesty International USA, warned that the orders pose risks to journalists and human rights advocates, “who will be forced to hand over laptops and devices containing sensitive information, potentially compromising their sources.”

Oh sure!

A senior administration official said the US would not go after data on passengers' devices.

“Evaluated intelligence”

Officials said the decision to impose the ban was prompted by “evaluated intelligence” about ongoing potential threats to airplanes bound for the US. The officials would not discuss the timing of the intelligence or if any particular terror group is thought to be planning an attack.

The ban would affect laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics.

Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corp., said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. There could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders - airport or airline employees - in some countries, he said.

A US government official said such a ban has been considered for several weeks. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose the internal security discussions by the federal government.

The ban would begin just before Wednesday's meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington. A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering. It was unclear whether their travel plans were related to any increased worry about security threats.

More downsides

Another aviation-security expert, Jeffrey Price, said there could be downsides to the policy.

“There would be a huge disadvantage to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage,” said Price, a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He said thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire - an event easier to detect in the cabin than the hold.

Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag's contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.