New US mandates require airlines from ten airports in eight nations to have passengers check-in electronics larger than a cellphone when traveling to the United States. Such electronics include tablets, laptops, and cameras.
The countries that the US ban applies to include Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait (all Muslim-majority countries). The UK has imposed a similar ban, although it only applies to six countries. It applies even if passengers are only boarding a connecting flight in an affected country. The US ban was made effective on Tuesday, March 21st, and will last at least until October 14, after which it may be extended for another year. The new ban had been announced in a confidential e-mail circular to the affected airlines. After the confidential circular was issued, the affected airlines were given 96 hours to comply with the new policies. After this circular was received, Royal Jordanian, one of the affected airlines, sent out a tweet to its passengers informing them of the affected changes, saying that it had received “instructions from concerned US departments.” This caused a controversy because it was suggested that Royal Jordanian ruined the confidential nature of the circular by informing passengers of its existence. It may be for this reason that the airline had to eventually delete this tweet.
It is unclear what specifically sparked this ban, with the TSA simply stating it was instated to protect against the possibility of bombs being brought in through larger personal devices. Critics of the ban have had multiple concerns. Airlines worry about deterring business travelers who typically use their laptops to work on long flights, and passengers who don’t want to risk possible damage by storing their electronic devices in cabin baggage.
Additionally, airlines wonder if increasing the number of lithium ion batteries stored in plane cargo will cause more fires due to the risk of overheating. Airlines and passengers have also questioned whether the ban will actually allow planes to be safer from terrorism. Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, has asked for alternate measures to be taken, such as better screening equipment for electronic devices to check for explosive devices.
Some airlines have begun implementing new methods to placate their passengers. Emirates, for example, has created a handling service so that business passengers can use their devices until they reach the boarding gate, rather than having to check their devices before going into security. Some airlines have begun to publicize the in-flight entertainment that they offer while others have made the bold suggestion to their passengers that they can live without their large electronic devices during a flight.