What’s The Logic Behind The In-Flight Electronics Ban?

Update, 6AM Tuesday — Further details have been announced by DHS, please read this post for more information.

Update, 10PM Eastern — The Associated Press is reporting the electronics ban will apply to flights from Amman, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Casablanca, Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait City, and Riyadh. Developing.


What a bizarre day…

Earlier I posted about how Royal Jordanian announced that in-cabin electronics would would be banned on flights to/from the U.S. starting tomorrow, March 21, 2017. With the exception of cell phones, all electronics would have to be checked through to the final destination.

Electronics-Ban

As more information emerged, it became clear that Royal Jordanian wasn’t just misunderstanding some policy, but that they were in fact following some sort of directive, which is apparently impacting people traveling from 13 different countries to the U.S.

What have airlines & authorities said about the electronics ban?

What makes this story even stranger is that Royal Jordanian has in the meantime deleted their Tweet about the electronics ban, instead Tweeting that more information will be announced soon.

At the same time Saudia has posted about the new policy (though only in Arabic). What the heck?! The communication here is just horrible — can passengers traveling to the U.S. on Royal Jordanian tomorrow show up with electronics in their carry-on, or no?

EgyptAir has also been asked about the ban, and responded by saying that they only issue airline tickets, and to ask the “corresponding authorities.” Helpful. 😉

The Department of Homeland Security has only released a statement saying that “we have no comment on potential security precautions, but will provide any update as appropriate.”

I understand that they don’t want to reveal what the threats are, etc., but you’d think it would at least be in everyone’s best interest to outline the policy, so that travelers can prepare properly.

What’s the logic behind the electronics ban?

While there has been a lot of speculation about what the actual policy is, I haven’t seen too much discussion about what the logic behind such a policy could be. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is scratching their head, trying to understand this better.

Let me be the first to say that I’m horrible with technology and am also not a security expert. So I’m talking out loud here, and am hoping some of you (who are actually experts in this area) can chime in, so we can all better understand what’s going on.

Is the fear that a bomb will be masked as an electronic device? This has long been a fear, and is usually solved by requesting that all electronics be powered on during a security inspection. Heck, I have to do this every time I go through a secondary inspection.

Furthermore, if the fear is that bombs are masked as electronic devices, then how is having them checked solving anything? At least in the past, some bombs have been detonated in the cargo hold using a timer.

Furthermore, let’s keep in mind that in the past there were regulations banning lithium-ion batteries from being checked in the cargo hold. I don’t personally know how real that risk is, though if the ICAO put out a directive regarding that in the past, I assume there was some merit to it. Are airlines now supposed to encourage passengers to check lithium-ion batteries?!

Is the fear that an electronic device will be used to somehow hack an aircraft system? If that is in fact a possibility, couldn’t that also be done from a smartphone? What’s the logic behind banning an iPad Mini but not an iPhone 7 Plus?

If only passengers traveling on certain routes are being banned, what’s to prevent them from traveling though a third country to get to the U.S.? For example, instead of traveling from Amman to New York they could travel from Amman to Frankfurt to New York, and then bring on those horribly dangerous laptops and iPads?

Everything about this situation seems so poorly executed:

  • I understand them not wanting to reveal possible risks, but they could at least communicate the policy clearly so that passengers can prepare properly
  • I’d love to know what I’m missing about how this could possibly be enhancing safety; according to the ICAO there’s a risk to checking lithium-ion batteries, so how are we safer by telling people they can’t carry-on an iPad Mini, while saying that an iPhone 7 Plus is okay?

Please chime in, security experts — I’m sure I’m not the only one who is curious!

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

Comments

  1. To me the interesting question is along the line of your routing question and that is what technology do other countries have that would detect/prevent the threat when it goes through their screening process that the 13-countries banned do not.

  2. lithium batteries are banned from checked bags, so how the hell are you meant to check laptops etc? bunch of clueless morons

  3. @Ben For one who obviously thinks of himself as more enlightened, you sure do jump to conclusions and paint with a very broad brush.

  4. bernardo, it’s not a muslim ban, it’s an anyone he doesn’t do business with ban. If it was muslims that were banned, saudia arabia would be on the list, but he does business with them.

  5. Pointless post by a guy who is clearly clueless about security. More and more pointless speculation… these posts are getting worse and worse

  6. drudge report…doggy treat for hardcore deplorables who think (broadly using the word, can’t really say they have the cognitive capacity to learn) fix news is too liberal…

    Cognition – “The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.”

    Just to save the effort of having to look up in a dictionary – wait, they don’t have one, they traded for another gun.

  7. Don’t understand why this is such an issue for so many people. The govt of the country to which you are traveling gets to make the rules concerning who can come into the country and what they can bring. Like it/hate it………agree/disagree…………doesn’t really matter. The rules are the rules. If you don’t agree then you have choices. You can check your electronics. You can elect not to travel. You can travel from a different country. You can ship your electronics to your final destination. But, you still have choices. If you are an American citizen, you also have the freedom/civic responsibility to make your voice heard with your vote if you do not agree with/like the current leaders in place. In a relatively short period of time you get to vote for someone else to replace them. You also get to vote with your pocket book. In the grand scheme of things, this ain’t a big deal.

  8. Given the chance of a faulty lithium battery vs. terrorist act, I’ll gladly risk putting the devices INSIDE the cabin where smoke/sounds will be seen vs. in the cargo hold. Pan Am 103 ring a bell to anyone?

    The real problem is keeping dangerous PEOPLE off airplanes, not objects. I carry enough equipment in my carry-on which could easily knock out comms on the aircraft. BUT, I have no desire to take out an aircraft, so this isn’t a problem or threat. I also often wear a belt and even sometimes shoelaces — items which I could use to incapacitate crewmembers…but again, I have no desire to kill anyone, so these items don’t pose a threat.

    Likewise, given what we know about the ban, there’s nothing stopping someone from picking up a flight from AMM (Amman, Jordan airport), flying to FCO (Rome), then on a separate ticket flying on a different non-affected airline to the USA. Indeed, if we had any employees who would be affected by this, this sort of re-routing is how we’d handle it.

  9. @Common man: I assume you don’t travel frequently, as if you did you’d understand that putting a laptop or other expensive electronic piece of equipment in checked luggage = gone. Between TSA, Customs/Immigration, and the ramp rats, it’s not going to make it to its final destination.

  10. Jon sums it up for me. Let’s see what weird justification Spicer comes up with for it too, always good for a laugh…

  11. Alvin: Most likely not since it’s the USA’s TSA asshattery, not some international organization nor airline policy.

  12. I bet a lot of people are going to get notes in their checked bags about TSA opening and checking on arrival. Likely they will open, check data for problem content.

  13. This is ridiculous, not only is it a massive inconvenience and annoying, business and government employees are often required to keep these things on their person – how on earth are we supposed to sell weapons to KSA and Turkey now, among other things.

  14. This is likely just the US carriers persuading Trump to do something about the ME3. Knock out their profitable business travelers by disallowing work on flights.

  15. Just check Potus’s twitter; the answer is there or it’ll be there soon..

    #PoppingPopCorn

  16. More political garbage by people who think they have all the right answers. Cancelled my newspaper because of all the decisive political garbage, don’t watch nightly news anymore for same reason, and next on my list is travel blogs.

  17. @Al – unfortunately, we live in a particularly political time. Is cutting yourself off from information really the best way to handle it?

  18. Ben, this is the second time in recent posts that you’ve used the expression “talking out loud”. I think you must mean either “thinking out loud” or “talking off the top of my head”. “Talking out loud” is really the only way to talk, isn’t it?

  19. @Roger I totally agree with you. I think its corporate pandering vs ME3 by the current US administration.

  20. Bottom line:
    This move Is simply to use security as a mask for economic embargo against the ME3.

    Plain and simple.

    I don’t see it being remotely relevant to security when it’s enforced against a band of nations grouped in one region and other countries worldwide are left free to allow pax to use their devices. It’s an economic penalization against the ME3 masked under an entire region ban.

  21. The TSA is probably foisting this rule to:
    1. Stymie Middle Eastern (especially the big ME3) airlines vis a vis U.S. carriers,
    2. Punish electronics because they won’t consent to invasive pat-downs 🙂

  22. @Ben – Just curious, how does this pan with flights originating in Abu Dhabi, since they have previous clearance?

  23. I don’t blame Trump for this. I blame the same ridiculous security kabuki mindset that has us removing our shoes and carrying 3 oz liquids. Real security involves highly trained security experts, not the welfare-to-work mall cop wannabes of the TSA.

    Like I said, this is too granular a program to have been dreamed up by someone as divorced from detail as Trump is, although his inability to hire anyone more competent than a lackey certainly has had a role in its development and piss poor implementation.

  24. I am pretty pissed. I am about to leave for a photography workshop in Jordan. I have a direct flight back from Dubai, so will have to pack any camera equipment, computers, etc. that I bring home. ( The ban doesn’t apply to the outbound flight, which is kind of interesting. I’ve also been told that it doesn’t apply to any U.S. carriers.) I think I’m just going to bring some old equipment with me rather than risk having my good equipment stolen. I’m glad I found out about this before I left the United States. But I certainly don’t feel any safer because of it

  25. @Rich ““Talking out loud” is really the only way to talk, isn’t it?”

    Said a man who was chatting on the internet.

  26. Austrian Radio reportet the Ban ist the Result of Information Al Qaida Plans to bring Bombs in Laptops on Board and the explosives can only be detected with luggage Scanner…

  27. Maybe a business war. No laptop = less businessmen in business class = more flying delta aa united on these routes especially competing with Turkish Qatar emirates etihad etc. Maybe the big three US airlines are behind the rules.

  28. I flew recently from Cairo to Amman on Egypt Air and was required to turn my laptop on at two different security points in the airport. They were checking to make sure it was an operable computer versus a bomb. It was the only time that this happened to me. I travel 3-4 weeks internationally for pleasure.

    No similar exercise occurred from Amman to LAX the following week on Turkish Air.

    I think this exercise is much more reasonable than forcing passengers to check them.

    I would assume that Lucky would have had this happen at least once in the past with all the jet setting he does….

  29. So, here are the airpirts according to AP:
    Cairo, Amman, Kuweit City, Casablanca, Doha, Istanbul, Riad, Dschidda, Dubai, Abu Dhabi

    Reason for this ban is a terroristic thread, US officials learned about in Yemen and the knowledge that there is a terroristic group trying to build bombs without metal parts, so they could not be detected at the scannings. They plan especially to attac planes…

  30. Lithium batteries under certain sizes are allow to check-in if inside devices, but not if they are spare, e.g. your 2nd laptop battery just hanging with the laptop bag/ 2nd mobile/ camera battery; standalone lithium battery can only be carry-on, so in this instance, you will have to check in the laptop with 1st battery inside, and you carry on the 2nd/3rd battery, simple! Also beware that lithium over certain size are not allow to check in or carry on anyway, unless it is for medical reasons, e.g. electric wheelchair (wheelchair would be checked in, and battery taken out and carry-on, and customer offered wheelchair service to board aircraft).- from my knowledge previously working for an airline, so information might be a bit outdated.

    But for why iPads are banned while iPhones are allowed, I am thinking this restriction is aim at the devices’ size rather than ability, but can’t they just carry 3iPhones to get the same size?? As I am no computer expert, this part also puzzles me a lot….

    Hopefully, this will not extend to other countries, I love to be with my laptop! 😉

  31. Rump had an extraordinary bad day yesterday.

    It was confirmed by the heads of the FBI and the NSA, under oath, that federal law enforcement is looking into ties between Rump’s associates and Russia. It was also confirmed that Russia was meddling in the US’s election process, and that Russia was trying to get Rump elected.

    Additionally Rump’s accusation the former President Obama was surveilling Rump was debunked by the heads of the FBI and the NSA who said under oath that there was no evidence of this.

    So…what to do? How about come up with a silly new irrational travel rule that distracts people from Rump’s really bad day!

    Bannon most likely has a list of such distractions queued up and ready to go, waiting for moments like this. These methods are straight from Breitbart’s playbook.

    Tl;dr — LOOK!! A SQUIRREL!!

  32. up until now it has been assumed powering laptop, tablet etc up down resolved one level of potential threat. The actual mass of a laptop, smart phone and or combination of components amongst 2-3 passengers could be combined with ac adaptor as makeshift taiser, burnout circuits aboard aircraft.

    Or components inside being replaced and assembled as weapon. No one scans for the interior components to see how they could be re-assembled as weapon?

  33. I think it is a profit driven policy that has nothing to do with security issues.

    Old and poorly serviced American carriers have been bleeding to more luxurious and better serviced Middle Eastern airlines. Not only do Middle Eastern airlines provide competitive fares for better service, but they also eliminate the transit in Europe (where most American carriers pick passengers from).

    Furthermore, UAE , Qatar and Turkish airlines have even been promoting their airports as better transit spots for travelers from Asia and India which further cut the profits from american carriers in Europe.

    Hence, this policy makes travel via Europe and flying with American carriers a better option for those who don’t want their electronics stolen or damaged, something Middle Eastern Carriers will not be able to provide.

  34. What’s worse is that apparently it only applies to foreign carriers, which makes no sense as its not like Delta or United or American have special screening procedures at those airports which foreign carriers do not. See this article in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/us/politics/tsa-ban-electronics-laptops-cabin.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

    As someone who believes that the previous travel ban is likely an unconstitutional Muslim ban which violates the 1st Amendment, this is clearly just a protectionist attack on the ME3 + Turkish. Still, what a mess.

  35. @AlexS,

    I understand and do travel fairly frequently for work. As pointed out earlier, this will probably to definitely lead to more thief, damage and destruction of personal electronic devices all in the name of “safety.” I never contended that it would not. Flying, however, is a privilege………not a right. If you are going to a specific country, you gotta play by their rules. If you don’t like those rules, then don’t fly there. If are a citizen of that country, and you don’t agree with the policy, then you make your voice heard with your pocket book, vote, etc. You improvise, adapt and overcome. Inconvenient? Absolutely.

  36. The biggest reason why the ban is nonsensical: any potential terrorist with a bomb can just book a connecting flight via Europe. There are lots of possible connections via Europe. Can’t take it aboard an Emirates flight from Dubai to Washington? Just book a BA flight Dubai-Heathrow-Washington. It’s not difficult and I’m sure there must have been someone at DHS that realized this loophole. The Nigerian man that tried to set off a bomb sewn to his underwear aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in 2009 had flown Accra-Lagos-Amsterdam-Detroit.

    I am sure that this is just a protectionist measure to protect the US airlines from competition from Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and Turkish airlines. They have taken most of the premium air traffic to South Asia, the Middle East, and increasingly Africa. The electronics ban is intended to inconvenience their passengers so the US carriers can gain ground. There are plenty of stories about US airlines lobbying Trump since he took office to impede the Middle Eastern carriers.

  37. Donald Trump’s attempt to try to desperately enforce his muslim ban. The fact that only muslim-majority-country-based airlines are affected speaks for its self.

  38. Look at it this way, the airlines(some based in USA) were trying to stop the expansion of ME3 by using subsidies as the argument. Now they might have persuaded the government to enforce this law which would cause a huge inconvenience for the passengers transiting through these airports and might have a huge impact on their PLF(especially the premium segment). After all flying is more about convenience. If this is indeed true then it is a smart move by the airlines lobbying against ME3.

  39. Ban will last till 14th October.

    It will be applicable on selected flights only and airlines will be informed of this

    It will vary daily i.e the flights to be affected

    Sounds very strange all this, hoe can theyd ecide which flight is safe and which isnt? of the carriers affected Kuwait Airways operates three flights via Shannon in addition to the thre nonstops and Emirates has a few via Milan to New York and Athens to Newark or has that not started, all these might get spared.

  40. @ sohail — I’m pretty sure “selected flights” means the ones we know about (i.e., all flights from selected airports), not a further subset of those flights. The daily variance has to do with not all flights operating each day, I think.

  41. And what will the US government do about all the electronics that get stolen out of people’s luggage since they now have to check it? I see no reason a terrorist cant just board a flight somewhere else and do this. A stupid policy from a stupid bigoted administration.

  42. Whoever said British Airways just checks lithium ion in the hold, because of their one non-specified experience, is dead wrong. It is allowed under a certain watt hour but many, if not most, lithium ion is banned from the hold and should be in checked luggage (so the crew can put any fires that occur out). They stick to rigorous standards and you will be highly questioned on specifics of your battery, which we then relay to load control, which is then approved or denied before loading. This ban poses many questions from airline employees who know this information well. It is not logical, even for safety–many passengers will circumvent. Interesting since many big money US people fly these luxurious airlines like Etihad and Emirates. Bad move US.

  43. The UK excludes UAE airlines from its list to ensure Airbus orders are not cancelled as a retaliatory measure undertaken by the UAE.

  44. The logic is that many larger laptops still contain a bunch of 18650 Lithium Ion battery cells often arranged as several parallel strings of three connected in series (to achieve a 12 V supply, each being around 4.2V). If you have never seen one, they look like a larger version of a AA battery. I suspect there has been some effort, picked up by the intelligence communities, to fabricate explosive devices in a 18650 form factor. One could then replace a couple of the parallel cell strings with say six of the explosive cells, leaving three intact so that the laptop could be demonstrated as functioning, all be it with 1/3 of the normal battery life. These could then be triggered by some manual means in flight. You would end up with a pretty decent fist sized amount of, say, CX, which could certainly blow a hole in any airplane resulting in massive instant decompression, instant death +/- three or four rows/columns of seating, flying debris injuries (some also fatal) beyond and most likely catastrophic failure of the airframe. I would assume that the flat Lithium Polymer batteries in more recent thinner devices may not have been targeted (yet), although tablets seem included in the ban. Despite being thin, there’s still a decent volume of battery material in some of the larger devices. It’s easier to ban them all than set a size limit.

  45. 1. I feel for those who, apart from being prevented from working inflight (I thought of Lucky almost straight away!), cannot work pre departure in the lounge either (which is where I tend to do my work, especially if flying economy once onboard).

    2. I’ve had a couple of laptops now that when put in sleep mode, don’t actually go to sleep and become very hot. I wouldn’t want that going into the hold and causing a fire.

  46. It will be interesting to see how people travelling from non-banned countires to us/uk, on emirates, etihad n other banned airlines, what will they go thru if they got transit in airlines base airports (KSA, uae etc.$
    For example I will be allowed to travel from Australia to Uae bt after tht I will have to book my laptop…

  47. Because they will realize the flaw in their logic about traveling through a 3rd country first, this ban will soon apply to all passengers on all flights worldwide. Nobody will ever again bring a laptop or tablet on board a commercial aircraft. I will start taking the train for travel, as there is zero security on the train.

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