US Electronics Ban on MidEast originating flights

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My most recent Etihad flight at Abu Dhabi airport

This morning US time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued an emergency security directive banning on certain electronic gadgets being taken brought into cabins on some flights to the USA. Of course, we knew about the ban already, because Royal Jordanian tweeted about it yesterday!

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Where they got the information from and why they announced it is a mystery. They also were in error suggesting that the ban applied to US originating flights. There has been a suggestion they inadvertently published information from a TSA circular that was meant to be confidential. What we do know is the airline deleted the tweet replacing it with this:

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The directive gives 96 hours notice from 8am Tuesday March 21, 2017 that for an unspecified period, all electronics larger than a phone will be banned from airline cabins on flights originating at ten airports in eight countries. The devices banned will include laptops, tablets cameras, DVD players, Kindles, electronic games, scanners and printers.

Electronic devices will continue to be allowed on all flights originating in the United States.

The airports and airlines that will be affected from Saturday are:

  1. Egypt: CAI, Cairo International Airport, Egyptair to New York JFK
  2. Jordan: AMM, Queen Alia International, Amman: Royal Jordanian to Chicago, Detroit, JFK RJ BEY-AMM - 015
  3. Kuwait: KWI, Kuwait International Airport: Kuwait Airways to JFK
  4. Morocco: CMN, Mohammed V International, Casablanca: Royal Air Morac to JFK and Washington Dulles (IAD).
  5. Qatar: DOH, Hamad International, Doha: Qatar Airways to Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles,  Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Houston, Miami, JFK, Philadelphia and IAD.
  6. Saudi Arabia: JED, King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah: Saudia to JFK, LAX, IAD
  7. Saudi Arabia: RUH, King Khalid International, Riyadh: Saudia to JFK, LAX, IAD
  8. Turkey:  IST, Ataturk Airport, Istanbul: Turkish Airlines to  Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, LAX, JFK, San Francisco, Miami and IAD.Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.45.06 pm
  9. United Arab Emirates: DXB, Dubai International: Emirates to Boston, Chicago, DFW, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles LAX, Orlando, SFO, Washington Dulles. EMIRATES A380 - 01
  10. United Arab Emirates:  AUH, Abu Dhabi International:  Etihad to Boston, Chicago O’Hare, DFW, Houston, JFK, LAX, Seattle, SFO and Washington Dulles. It includes anyone who has been pre-screened for US immigration, contrary to earlier reports. I112 Etihad - 006

I note that in 2016, I flew through six of these airports!

There is no correlation between these countries and the ones targeted in the two Trump administration immigration bans.

The reasoning for this ban, is addressed in the Department of Homeland Security statement:

“The U.S. Government is concerned about terrorists’ ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years…Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”

In other words, there is concern that explosives may be inserted into a laptop and used to blow up a plane.  Last year, a suicide bomber unsuccessfully tried to bring down a Somali aeroplane. It is thought the bomb had been concealed in the laptop. The only life lost was that of the bomber who was sucked out of the plane.

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It is anticipated that any airline found to be not complying with the directive will have their permission to fly to the USA revoked.

Apart from the danger of having my plane blown up, I have quite a few questions:

  1. What about the risk of having a whole hold full of lithium ion batteries? Apparently, the FAA has concluded that the risk of a potential attack outweighs the potential risk of battery fire!
  2. Can’t a bomb be smuggled in a laptop into the cargo hold and be triggered automatically?
  3. What is the productivity cost of thousands of people losing access to their laptops for that time?
  4. What is to stop someone just flying from Abu Dhabi or Dubai or Amman etc to London, Paris or Zurich and then flying to the USA with such a bomb?
  5. What about flights from these airports to other destinations?
  6. How long before we see a worldwide ban on travelling with laptops?
  7. How much theft of the contents of passengers bags will now occur?
  8. What will the effect of the fear and nuisance be to reduce traffic from these cities to the USA? On top of the travel bans which has caused uncertainty, won’t this exacerbate cancellations of US bound travellers?
  9. Why only these airports? That is weird to be so specific! Why not Paris or London as well?
  10. What will be the impact on Muslims who live in the USA. Will this raise suspicions and tensions to these citizens and residents?
  11.  Isn’t it interesting that the airlines most inconvenienced by this are the three involved in disputes with the US carriers over access to the US market namely Emirates, Etihad and Qatar? That is also a little weird.

I will be interested to see how my questions get answered over the coming days.

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