This electronics ban will make life inconvenient for travelers on long-haul flights to the U.S. It's hard not to wonder, however, about the refusal of the U.S. government to detail any specific threat that has been made.
A ban on large electronic devices on direct flights from eight countries in the Middle East and Africa will affect nine airlines and continue indefinitely on approximately 50 flights per day, according to senior administration officials on a call held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The officials wouldn’t give any specific details on the threat that has prompted the ban, but officials drew a connection between the ban and several previous terror attacks that have taken place in Turkey, Somalia, Brussels, and the bombing that downed an EgyptAir flight in 2016.
“We’re concerned about ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation,” said a senior administration official. The DHS began briefing the nine carriers about the restrictions on Sunday.
Any personal devices larger than a smartphone must be checked following the emergency amendment, which was sent out to 10 airlines at 3 a.m. ET. The airlines will have 96 hours to comply with the new directives, or risk having their flight certificates pulled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The affected airlines are Emirates, Etihad Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, EgyptAir, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Air, Royal Air Moroc, and Qatar Airways.
Flights from Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan, Cairo International Airport in Egypt, Ataturk International Airport in Turkey, King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Saudi Arabia, King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia, Muhammad V International Airport in Morocco, Doha International Airport in Qatar, Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, and Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates are affected.
When asked whether the ban is intended as a salvo in the battle between U.S. and Gulf carriers, the officials demurred. “The effort was not focused on any one location or country,” one said. No U.S. carriers fly direct routes out of any of the airports included in the ban.
Laptops, tablets, e-readers, DVD players, and video game systems larger than a phone are all restricted. The officials also denied that personal data from checked devices will be copied or examined by border officials.
The officials were also not concerned that the increase in devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, which have a reputation for combusting in the cargo holds of aircraft, pose a threat.
The ban is somewhat reminiscent of the 2006 ban on carry-on luggage which led to the rule limiting the volume of fluids that can be taken through airport security to three ounces.
Documents provided by DHS expose more details of the ban.
A FAQ sheet provided by DHS is embedded below. Not every flight to the U.S. from the selected airports and airlines will be subject to the ban.
“This will only impact flights from 10 of the more than 250 airports that serve as last points of departure to the United States,” reads the document. “This will only impact a small percentage of flights to the United States. The exact number of flights will vary on a day to day basis.”
Passengers connecting to a flight selected for the ban are suggested to check their devices from their original point of departure. Authorities also reserve the right to add more airports or airlines to their list.
Photo credit: The new electronics ban instituted by the Department of Homeland Security will affect 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa. In this file photo, an Etihad Airways plane prepares to land at the Abu Dhabi airport in the United Arab Emirates. Kamran Jebrelli / Associated Press