Ever since the landscape of the United States political system changed a few months ago it seems like we haven’t stopped hearing about travel bans. Today the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration continue this trend by announcing a new electronic device ban US bound flights from the Middle East. This ban does not limit who can travel, but instead limits the electronic devices that can come with you on the flight.
The ban is similar to the FAA’s ban on Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones. When the airlines banned the Samsung phones, no passenger could bring the phone into the main cabin. Eventually airlines banned the phones from checked luggage as well. However, the current ban, issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) more specific in some ways, but much broader in others. Here is what we know so far.
Which Countries And Airlines Are Effected?
At the moment, unsurprisingly, the ban mostly affects travelers coming from the middle east to the United States. The current version of the electronic device ban affects airlines departing from just 10 airports with flights bound for the US. Those affected airports include Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Amman, Jeddah, Riyadh, Casablanca, Cairo, Istanbul, and Kuwait City. The ban includes all flights with non-stop service to the United States from these airports.
Currently, the ban on electronic devices only affects 9 airlines. The affected airlines include Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Royal Jordanian, Turkish, Saudi Arabian, Kuwait, Royal Air Maroc, and Egyptair.
Interestingly the ban is only covering flight from these airports TO the United States and does not prohibit passengers from carrying on large electronic devices when traveling from the US. Also, the current version of the electronics ban does not include any US based airlines or others from nearby airports.
What Items Are Banned?
From all the information I’ve read thus far it seems the best answer is all passengers much check any electronic devices larger than a cellphone. I am yet to see any published dimensions for banned items in the current publicly available literature. The electronics ban stipulates e-readers, tablets, laptops, cameras, etc. must be placed in your checked baggage. It appears only your cellphone is allowed to be with you in the main-cabin. (Unless that phone is a Samsung Galaxy S7 Note)
My Thoughts On The Electronics Ban
First off, I’m going to assume such a drastic measure would not be implemented without cause. I suspect the United States has received some intelligence which helps justify the electronics ban. With that being said, I am mostly confused by the electronics ban for the following reasons:
1. What Is Wrong With The Current Screening Procedures
Currently when traveling, all large electronic devices must be removed from your bag and placed in a separate bin when passing through the security scanner. This allows the security agent to get a better view of all electronic devices. I know check bag screeners are a more powerful than those used for carry-on baggage, but I’m going to assume security agents are still going to remove electronic devices from bags for screening purposes.
Additionally, I’ve read of security screenings which require electronic devices be powered on. If the device is not able to be powered on then the agent prohibits you from flying with the device. I’m not sure how ‘improved’ screening procedures can improve on this process. Again, I’m going to assume security screening personnel are going to have to remove and power up electronic devices during the screening process.
2. Are Electronic Devices Going To Get Stolen?
This brings me to my second issue. Even under the current screening procedures for carry-on baggage, many security agents find ways for electronic devices to disappear. Over the years I have seen several news stories of TSA agents who end up with electronic devices in their homes. Sure the stories seem like entrapment (device left by new crew for hours), but it’s still ethically wrong. Under the new screening procedures your devices are going to be screened behind closed doors. Out of view. What’s worse, is you won’t have access to your devices until you arrive back in the US and collect your bags! Who knows how many electronic devices are going to go missing under the new electronics travel ban?
3. Are We Any Safer?
I’m not sure how this new safety measure makes travelers any safer, in the long run? Yes, if screeners diligently check each and every single electronic device we will 100% be safer, but that’s unrealistic. Just as its unrealistic for screeners to catch 100% of contraband items in carry-on bags. If something slips through the cracks are passengers any safer if the contraband items are in the cargo hold vs. the main cabin?
4. Personal Comfort
I prefer to be safe when traveling. As they say, better safe than sorry, but I can’t help but think about the lost productivity this electronic travel ban is going to cause. Majority of the flights affected are westbound which mean passengers tend not to sleep as much as when going east. I’d imagine a lot of passengers on these flights intended to ‘get some work done’ when flying. Not having a laptop in-flight is a major inconvenience for the business traveler and leisure traveler alike.
5. Airline Politics or A De Facto Muslim Ban?
I try not to buy into conspiracy theories, but it’s hard to ignore the underlying issues. The first of which is the politics of international aviation. The US is very open to allowing international carriers to fly to the United States. Other countries, especially the ones affected, are much less generous. For example, no US airline can fly nonstop to Doha, Abu Dhabi, or Dubai currently. Instead, US based passengers must connect through international gateway or fly one of the affected airlines. Perhaps this electronic ban is an attempt to further reduce revenues of middle eastern airlines. This article provides a brief introduction to the topic I know too little about to discuss fully.
Another interesting theory is that the new electronics ban is essentially a Muslim ban in that it dissuades muslims from traveling to the United States since they won’t have access to electronic devices while en route. More on that theory can be found on Buzzfeed by clicking here. (H/T: OneMileAtATime)
I’m unbelievably confused by this electronics travel ban. I’m sitting here trying to wrap this up in a logical way and I just can’t. It’s hard to look at this and believe there is a true threat to public safety. If that were the case, then why not just ban all inbound flights from the Middle East? For anyone looking for more information about the electronic travel ban, ThePointsGuy, OneMileAtATime, and CNN Money have all provided incredible coverage thus far.
Note: I’m very disappointed by this electronics travel ban. Just yesterday, before the news broke, I found an incredible mileage run opportunity which routed through Doha to get back to the United States. I’d earn enough miles to qualify for AAdvantage Platinum Pro in 2017 in addition to my other travel plans. I guess I’ll have to wait to book because I definitely want to take my laptop with me when I travel.