It's starting to look like an electronics ban on flights from Europe to the United States may not be imminent. But no one outside of government knows for sure — not even airlines.
Will the United States ban all laptops, tablets and e-readers from more incoming international flights?
This has a hot topic for several weeks, with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly saying repeatedly he was considering a restriction because of terrorism concerns. At first, Kelly suggested a ban might only apply to flights from Europe, but in recent days he has said it might be implemented on more flights. For now, the U.S. has only banned large electronics on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa, including Istanbul and Dubai. No U.S. airlines are affected by that ban.
While a global ban would be troublesome for airlines, Europe is the focus now, in part because because the stakes are so high. There are more than 400 daily flights between the U.S. and Europe and many are packed with business travelers. U.S. and European airlines don’t want a ban because they fear it will dissuade passengers — especially customers who pay high fares in premium cabins — from flying.
On Tuesday, Politico reported travelers had earned a reprieve. It quoted a European Commission official saying, “No ban.” The United States and EU, Politico said, would work toward finding another solution to keep aircraft safe.
But after the report, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement confirming Kelly had spoken to European Home Affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport commissioner Violeta Bulc, but denying the group had reached a long-term, no-ban solution.
“While a much-discussed expansion of the ban on large electronic devices in the cabin on flights to the United States was not announced today, the Secretary made it clear that the an expansion is still on the table,” it said in a statement.
The statement said Kelly would implement a ban, “if the intelligence and threat level warrant it.”
Airlines not aware of change
An official at one major U.S. airline told Skift the Politico report came as a surprise, with the carrier unaware the U.S. position had changed. The airline, the source said, was still preparing for the ban, though executives at the carrier did not know when, or if, it would be implemented. An official at another major U.S. airline also said the government had not notified airlines it had changed its position.
Airlines have been trying to persuade authorities to implement other, less restrictive security measures. One option might be to test all or most devices for traces of explosives. It’s a labor intensive plan that might lead to flight delays, but it would allow passengers to have their laptops, tablets and e-readers in the cabin.
“I think every airline would prefer that there not be a ban,” Thomas Ramdahl, Norwegian Air’s chief commericial officer, said Tuesday in an interview. “It will make things more difficult for both airlines and customers, I would say.”
In May, the CEO of IATA, a trade group representing airlines, pleaded with regulators not to implement a ban. Instead, it asked governments to increase spending on security, add more screening for traces of explosives, hire more behavioral detection officers, and recognize trusted traveler programs, such as Global Entry in the United States, to identify low-risk passengers.
In its statement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it and the EU would cooperate on “seen and unseen enhancements” in airport security.
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Photo credit: Passengers go through security screening at Frankfurt Airport. Politico reported that the United States may not implement an electronics ban on planes, at least not soon. Fraport