Travelers, businesses await US decision on expanded laptop ban
Monday, May 22, 2017
Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that all U.S. airlines should prepare for an expanded electronics ban, aimed at carry-on electronic devices that are larger than cellphones. Originally announced for U.S.-bound flights from eight Middle Eastern and North African countries, an expansion of the ban could mean other regions as well, including flights from Europe.
The announcement did not specify when, where or how the new rules would be implemented. DHS said that they are continuously assessing and analyzing the security directives based on updated intelligence reports. They want to avoid any situation that would threaten national security as well as the safety of passengers.
With terrorist groups like ISIS and others trying to circumvent airline security by using laptops or other electronic devices as terror weapons, U.S. officials feel the ban is justified.
Laptops, particularly, have been high on their radar since the Somali airliner attack where an explosive device was built into a laptop and smuggled in. When it detonated in flight, two people were injured.
Intelligence reports show that terror plots against the West have increased since 9/11. As terrorists look to sneak more advanced explosive materials onto planes, these reports and government concerns are validated ever more. The DHS announcement touched upon how terrorist groups are trying to "circumvent aviation security" and "target aviation interests."
With summer travel just around the corner, ignoring these threats is not an option. Regulations for liquids on planes have been revisited and reinforced as well, along with the additional devices with potentially volatile lithium-based batteries that can explode or catch fire in airline cargo holds.
The concerns seem valid, but the news hasn't been met with approval or pleasure by most people. Business travelers and airlines alike have been protesting against the wider in-flight electronics ban.
The Global Business Travelers Alliance (GBTA) is concerned that this will severely affect the robust travel figures that have been reported earlier for 2017 and beyond, especially for business travel. They have suggested putting trusted traveler programs and enhance preflight security screenings in place that will allow travelers to stay connected and productive during long flights, and also protect their sensitive data.
Airlines, which have spent significant money on Wi-Fi and connectivity, second these programs. Travelers from the Middle East have already delayed or canceled their flights instead of risking losing their laptops to the airlines or even a delay in getting them back. Now, Europeans flying to the U.S. may just do the same.
Airlines like KLM and Lufthansa are reviewing the ban and its possible implications on their business, and they are working on contingency plans. The same applies to major hubs like London's Heathrow Airport, which connects hundreds of U.S.-bound flights from the Middle East and Europe.
Turkish Airlines and Emirates, among others, have come up with an ingenious way to retain business. The former is offering laptops to its business-class travelers who had to hand over their own devices during the preflight screening. After the use, passengers can copy their data to a USB device and delete all information on the loaner laptops. Even if they forget to do so, the laptop will automatically delete the data when it is shut down.
The latest reports, however, show that the U.S. and the European Union — which is not in favor of implementing it — are in the midst of discussing the ban and its effects. While that is ongoing, the expanded electronics ban has been temporarily put on hold.
Unfortunately, this back and forth has confused both travelers and airlines, further affecting business.
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