Headline news about travel bans is starting to feel like business as usual. You’re not alone if you find yourself thinking: “Pretty much we’ll only be able to bring Saltines and an actual print newspaper and maybe a wallet when we board a plane.”
Fact is, though, there are loads of nuances and contingencies beyond that big bold “travel ban” headline, especially when it comes to the latest electronics ban, which was announced on March 21. The ban, which is applicable to specific airlines leaving specific airports in the Middle East, prohibits travelers from carrying laptops, iPads, and anything larger than a cellphone on flights to specific US airports. The items must be checked. The ban applies to flights from 10 airports in eight countries. Nine airlines are affected - Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Air, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways. When all is said and done, the measure, which will continue indefinitely, affects about 50 flights per day.
Many news reports and commentary note how this will strongly impact business travelers who have company-owned laptops, perhaps containing sensitive information. We, however, would argue that it would be equally exasperating for parents who might depend on laptops to keep young children from throwing temper tantrums at cruising altitude.
The questions that arise are why now and why the specificity? According to a New York Times report, "officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack." But the UK followed suit with a similar ban the following day and, according to anonymous security sources cited in news reports, the government based its decision on specific intelligence reports about the Islamic State developing a bomb that can be concealed in portable electronics.
But according to Jason Clampet, editor-in-chief of Skift, a travel news website, questions have been raised about the intent of the ban, what with its specific targets. Some experts speculate the measure is designed to hurt Gulf carriers because they’ve emerged as rivals in transatlantic flight packages.
This ban is a hassle for more than just the passengers. Airlines have been complaining about the lack of communication with Homeland Security, one of the government agencies that ordered the measure. Clampet explains that it was rolled out without warning, which stands in contrast with the liquid ban instituted in 2006, Clampet noted, which rolled out in a much more systematized fashion that involved training TSA agents before it went into effect.
"The ban came in the middle of the day, there was no way for airlines to communicate about it ahead of time." Clampet explains. "The same thing happened in January with the travel ban. It just happened--no communication. The CEO of American Airlines came out and said government messed up. You never hear airlines talking about the government like that."