RUMOR: White House Announcing Electronics Ban For Europe Flights Shortly

In late March the US instituted a ban on electronics for nonstop flights from select countries to the US. For nonstop flights to the US from Amman, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Casablanca, Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait City, and Riyadh, electronic devices larger than phones aren’t allowed in the cabin, and need to be checked in the cargo hold.

Inflight-wifi

While I think we were all hoping that this measure would be temporary, every day it looks more and more like that won’t be the case. In early April, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a Senate committee that the current electronics ban may be extended to more airports and countries, as it’s based on a “real” threat. Then a couple of weeks ago there was a further rumor that this would be extended to flights from the UK to the US.

While it’s still not officially confirmed, the always reliable @AlexInAir suggests that the electronics ban will soon be coming into effect for all flights from Europe to the US. He says he can’t reveal the source, but that an official announcement will be coming from the White House later this week.

I wouldn’t yet assume this to be “confirmed,” but this is a specific rumor from a reliable source, so at a minimum I’ll be carefully watching the news this week, expecting that such an announcement from the White House is more likely than not coming.

This would be a game changer, if true…

(Tip of the hat to Chris)

Comments

  1. I want to know what screening capabilities TSA has or other mechanisms in the security apparatus that would prevent/detect a similar threat in a flight originating in the US. That is the one piece that still makes me scratch my head.

    If a bad person was to get on a flight bound to the US, presumably they would be admitted because that has not been the issue so far. What is to stop them from carrying out an attack going the other direction where the electronics ban does not exist?

  2. Well. I guess this will be brilliant for Air Canada. Kind of a disaster for the rest of us though.

  3. Yep, US’s initial ban was only to hurt ME3. /s
    Sad to think influential people in aviation circles actually believed that garbage.

  4. The ridiculous part is that when I’m in Europe (and especially at LHR and CDG), the screening seems significantly more stringent than in the US with the unionized joke clowns (TSA) who work the machines here.

  5. I wouldn’t mind the massive inconvenience of this sort of thing nearly so much if there was even the tiniest inkling that it was actually for ‘safety.’ Give me a week and a large data set and I could easily create an algorithm that could detect weapons/explosives in carry-on luggage with much higher accuracy than current screening (not hard to beat 5%, lol). That would go much further towards safety while allowing more passenger privacy and comfort. I could be safer, bring my Kindle on flights, and not have to worry about being groped on the whim of a TSA agent!
    Instead, they make things harder for everyone, all for the sake of moving a theoretical bomb from the cabin to the hold. Or not even that, since I’m pretty sure the phone exception could be exploited easily enough.

  6. Thank the lord I’m flying to India with Singapore airlines and back with Cathay this summer. Usually I fly some ME airline or BA or LH. I hope Trump doesn’t extend the ban to the Far East Asian countries.

  7. This is just madness.
    How and why is TSA better than screeners at European airports? They found only 5% of the guns in the 2014 test, and I find it hard to believe they’re past the 70ish% mark right now.
    In the last couple of years I’ve experienced screenings on both sides, and the only difference was that the European screenings felt less chaotic and the officers were in general more polite.

  8. Yeah, I don’t think this is a poorly conceived measure, I think they are actually very afraid of something specific that we have no knowledge of. Which is probably for the best because it is likely confusing to bad actors as well.

  9. Rob – I don’t think an organisation sophisticated enough to develop hidden, non-detectable bombs is really going to find this remotely confusing…

  10. @Rob – couldn’t agree more.

    People should be far more concerned about the threat that this points to rather than the inconvenience it causes them.

    We’re lucky in the US and UK that we have such great security services. They’re a victim of their own success though. No one seems to believe any threats actually exist!

  11. If this does go ahead , it needs to apply to all airlines including American carriers, otherwise its just a joke.
    I predict a lot of laptops being lost here.

  12. So they basically gave the ME3 a head start in preparing for an eventual across the board electronics ban? If this is going to be the norm going forward I’d much rather trust my laptop with ME3 than a European or American airline.

  13. @Callum – It might not be a bomb they are worried about. They may have discovered some device that could hack into flight controls to crash the plane or like an EM pulse device that can fry electronics and cause the plane to lose the ability to be controlled. My guess is that the size restriction to the size of a phone has something to do with the suspect device needing a power source large enough to create the hypothetical disruption, which makes me think it is something like an em pulse device they are worried about.

  14. A “game changer”? Wah. How about just bring a book? Or talk to the person next to you? Or sleep? Or watch a movie?

  15. @tim: Many of us, including Ben, travel for business. Not being able to work on a medium-to-long haul flight is not reasonable, especially when your livelihood depends on it. Plus there’s also the risk of losing your device either by airline incompetence or pure theft. Bear in mind insurance won’t even cover thousands of dollars of electronics, so this move will inconvenience – and deter – many travelers.

  16. @Joe

    You are right we are so lucky in the US to have the intel agencies we do. We spend billions on them but look at their awesome and accurate predictions over the last 70 years:

    Missile gap
    Iranian Revolution
    Fall of communism
    First Indian nuclear tests
    Sept 11
    Iraqi weapons of mass destruction

    Oh wait! Victim of their own success indeed.

  17. This didn’t smell like a Muslim ban from the start because it seemed too smart of a twist for the current administration. Now if US airlines are excluded than it’s just a play to bolster the American carriers. But if it covers all of them…. I still don’t understand why a would-be terrorist couldn’t fly via Asia. My gut reaction is that they picked up some real threat and they don’t know how to handle it.

  18. My first thought is that theft of phones and tablets in checked luggage is going to skyrocket. I don’t mind taking a book on board in lieu of my Kindle reader. And I appreciate the security concerns.

    But when I get to where I going in Europe I want my smartphone/camera et al. I have little confidence that checking it in my luggage I will see it at the other end. New market for protective devices for packing phones and tablets; special travel insurance for your devices stolen from checked baggage; pre-ship options for your devices to your hotel upon arrival. I see a new market developing. Ugh.

  19. Aren’t there power ports on planes (if the laptop is the power source)?

    Is European screening that much worse than TSA in (say) Montgomery, AL?

  20. Apart from this being a hot mess, I’ll be interested to see how they treat flights from Ireland, at which there is Pre-Clearance.

    I’m on Speedbird 001 in August.

  21. Has anyone thought
    #1 – what is the purpose of TSA (or any originating country security) if we have to give up everything at gate?
    #2 – what confidence there is of TSA (or of any originating country security) if we have to give up things at gate? I mean if they can’t trust them to screen for unwanted items….. why the hell are they there?

  22. Just a matter of time till they ban China. I really hope they don’t. Please don’t

  23. Rob – You really can’t think of a way to sneak more batteries on the flights? Not to mention, surely EMP devices can just be operated from the hold anyway – they’re not shielded as far as I’m aware (satellite signals can certainly reach the hold anyway).

    Exactly the same as the ridiculous liquid ban. An unlimited number of terrorists can take their individual limits through and combine them after security.

  24. Should be an enormous boost for Air Canada. Are AeroMexico, Copa, and Avianca in a position to take advantage? There’s a lot of money for anyone that can step up connections through Latin America if this goes through.

    The giant new MEX airport is still at least four years away. Too bad, it could pay for itself in just a few years if it were ready to become a major transit hub for the USA in the face of a ban like this.

  25. My guess is if the US implements this, and its based on real intelligence, then Canada will do it also. Didn’t the UK implement a very similar electronics ban on ME flights once the US did so?

    This will be a huge pain if it happens. Part of the reason I pay for C on long flights is so I can work, which requires using a laptop. Actually I’m taking a trip next week, and already have a to-do list prepared of items to work on, which require high concentration and minimal disruption. I never seem to get those done while at the office.

  26. Honestly this is just getting stupid. We are willing to throw billions of dollars to prevent terrorism but no money for researching cures to disease. Which is more likely to impact the average person, or even a frequent traveler? Currently spending >$500M per terrorism victim. Hardly worth the opportunity cost of where else that money could be spent…

  27. @tim: sure, and Ben ist going to write his blog by hand and distribute it using a hectograph. 😉

  28. @Zymm if that’s the case, you should do it. Stop talking shit and actually do it.

    Now, I think the TSA has a lot of problems. But I’m also an EEE and I don’t think it is nearly as easy as you think it is.

    But, since you are that good … do it bro

  29. All I can say if this affects flights from Europe to the US it will get significantly more news coverage and expect Congress to be more involved and demanding to know the intelligence. It is easy to say a threat is coming from the ME but harder for most Americans to picture a threat from Europe.

    If this does pan out, which I don’t expect to happen, we will see intense lobbying from all US airlines and from European governments, but maybe we could a more stringent check of electronics, having to power up, take battery out, etc. I also think the US airlines will be pissed if it is announced as it has the possibility to hurt their bottom line if Canada is not included.

  30. For those who say the Americans are protecting them with this ban and that they just can’t reveal the source I call bullshit the American security is trash they are just underpaid , unionized and impolite while the Europeans have actual searches while being gentle forget the ME3 agenda this is basic protectionism.

  31. Congratulations Air Canada you won!

    Last October i forgot to take my pocket knife out of my bag. The TSA didn’t found it, but the “Kantonspolizei Zürich” found it at security at Zurich-Kloten Airport.
    The better thing would be an electronics ban for flights OUT of the US.

  32. lszrspotting – And Spanish security didn’t spot, amongst other things, a 2L carton of juice in my carry on while TSA always confiscate the 125ml tubes of toothpaste I try and get through.

    Anecdotes are useless.

  33. 3 questions, any help is greatly appreciated:

    1. myself and employees travel with camera batteries that surpass 100 watts. we have to keep these in our carry-ons, as they have not been allowed in check-in luggage. as we cannot carry them on now, will they be acceptable to check in?

    2. do airlines own up to the value of any lost/damaged/stolen checked-in electronics, i.e. a $4,600 maxed out Apple Macbook Pro, or does it fall under some sort of blanket replacement fee, that might have a limit?

    3. for computers and cameras that you remove from your carry-on to check-in, are you provided with special casing/protection, or do you have to now bring this on your own?

  34. This is a golden egg payback given to the US Based airlines from the Trump administration…. the US airlines, led by Delta’s whining about the MId east carriers no doubt had a solid lobby and made large, campaign contributions .The American carriers can’t compete on International routes with their subpar service , food and amenities compared to virtually any other International carrier …. whether Mid East, European, Asian or Canadian .

    Ironically they are targeting LHR now …. who like Tel Aviv, has effective security in their DNA… stemming back to the IRA days …. and far above the standards of TSA .

    It’s politics…. it’s dollars and it’s bulllsh&t.

  35. The people defending this ban:

    If there is such an epic threat from terrorism, why are the countries most impacted by terrorism — France, Germany, Sweden, etc. — not instituting a ban? Shouldn’t France demand the same ban from, at least, the Middle East?

    The fact that European countries are not also clamoring for a ban leads me to believe this is about domestic U.S. politics and not security.

  36. If this administration wanted to keep people constantly thinking that a nonexistent terrorist attack was imminent because analyses of focus groups data have indicated that this bolsters an unpopular president’s public standing by playing up his perceived toughness, inconveniencing travelers with this type of boneheaded policy would seem like the way to do it. It is like the Bush administration manipulating the colors or levels of terrorist threat alerts to raise GWB’s poll numbers whenever they began to tank, and that’s according to W’s own SecDef Tom Ridge’s memoir…

  37. I wonder will this affect flights ex-Ireland given that we have Pre-Clearance and TSA security?

  38. @Rob: Sure, but it’s weird that these “devices” don’t affect American carriers, no?

  39. @Alan: Abu Dhabi had it too and they were still affected. I don’t think American security theater takes all of this into account…

  40. The million dollar question is, will US carriers also be impacted?
    If yes, then I will concede this response **might** be from a legitimate threat, though appallingly handled most ineptly. It could also be a diversionary move, still affecting the ME3, but attempting to give appearance of non-bias.
    If they are not, well, it should be obvious that it is a non-tariff trade barrier.
    My own thoughts are it’s a good probability US carriers won’t be affected, the administration will claim US carriers have superior security measures and protections, and will expect everyone to accept that without question.
    But we must wait and see how this plays out.

  41. @Eric
    If you know where there’s an adequate public data set available I will. You don’t seem to be up to date on computer vision algorithms. They’ve improved drastically in the last couple years, and are currently used quite a bit in medicine. If we can trust a computer to interpret an MRI or render an opinion on the likelihood a tumor is malignant from imaging I think we can design a decent algorithm to identify high risk baggage for secondary screening. Is it perfect? No. Would a well-trained computer vision algorithm in conjunction with human interpretation be far better than what we have now? Yes.

    And “bro”? Really?

  42. the only reason the UK implemented it is because we lick america’s arse.
    Why should we be bullied by america? america needs to learn that it can’t just do whatever it wants.

  43. @ DCS,

    That’s exactly what Hitler did – made out that jews, disabled, gays, etc were a threat to society.

  44. @Emirates4Ever,

    The airlines don’t have screening measures, it’s down to the airports.

  45. If you fly from Europe to e.g. Chicago and then connect what stops anybody from taking their laptop out of the checked bag and then using it on the connecting flight?
    Or for that matter you stop in Chicago with your checked laptop and then you have it on the next flight. Or for all it matters you fly to Vancouver and drive it across the Canadian border and use a domestic flight from Seattle.

  46. @fortytwo
    I was right there with you thinking the same thing until now. If Europe is included then the ban will apply to U.S. carriers too and our old thinking is then obsolete because this will hurt the U.S. carriers a lot. It would no longer be credible to believe this is just theater to stick it to gulf carriers, it must be something more than that.

  47. Does anyone think this was a suggestion actually by the US3 lobbying? Think about it: People who historically only use carry-on luggage will now be forced to pay to check their luggage which equals more incremental income for the airlines. Food for thought.

  48. Fuuuuuu…dge… I’m in Europe right now, with said laptop. I’m glad I didn’t take my primary laptop with me.

    I’m not the best electrical engineer in the world by any means, but I fail to see how putting a laptop in a cargo hold vs. cabin makes the flight safer. If anything, it makes the flight far more at risk of being impacted by a bad lithium battery. We’ve had plenty of issues with lithium batteries in-flight over the past year. At least in the cabin they can be dealt with. In the cargo hold, there’s nothing air crew can do about it.

    As far as turning a laptop into something nefarious, it doesn’t take any particular skill. I’m not going to give details, but about 10-15 minutes with a soldering iron would do the job. As far as activating it, laptops have clocks and wireless communication — again, putting them in the hold won’t solve anything.

    I’m more concerned with cheap, shoddy lithium batteries than a terrorist trying to do something naughty.

  49. @AB
    As much as I have issues with US3 they aren’t this stupid. This will undoubtedly hit their core profitable business passengers. Many of whom probably have co-branded credit card/status and/or are flying in a F/J and so wouldn’t be paying the bag fees in any case. These are the same passengers who will likely curtail their travel to due to this or come up with alternatives. I don’t see this as a win for US3 if it goes through and I don’t think they are so stupid as to see it as a win either.

  50. @Jim UK implemented a similar ban to completely different airports. If they share intelligence (supposedly), what kind of coordination is that?

  51. Exactly. Most of the UK airlines involved in the UK ban have checked baggage fees.

    Different airports. If they’re presumably sharing intelligence with U.S. govt, that’s very strange.

  52. @secstate
    Serious Q: What alternative would there be, route through Canada? Are biz travelers, in general, ok with adding extra connections?
    I also wouldn’t the the stupidity of the US3 passed anyone considering their loyalty to the customer (primarily via the rewards program) has been slashed across the board as of recently.

  53. @DCS – You nailed it. This is kabuki. It’s all about the appearance of a threat. If you say the boogeyman is out there, but glorious leader is protecting you, that creates a favorable view of administration.

    I spent 25 years in marketing with a MA in PolSci and I can tell you this is exactly the sort of bullshit I used to come up with. (Ask me about the time I made up an entire coffee company to spoof consumers into paying more for shitty coffee.)

  54. @AB

    Some options that exist:

    Not flying at all/less and relying on conference calls, telepresence or similar technologies to fill gap.

    Alternative routing assuming it is viable we don’t really have any details yet. The impact of alternative routing is really going to depending on where you are located. If you are located in a major gateway city such as NY it may not be worth the hassle. But smaller cities where you need to transit another city anyway it may make more sense.

    Private jets or private jet shared services (these are really dropping in price). No TSA at all.

    Of course plenty of folks will still have to fly and deal with this in one way or the other. That said I doubt there is anybody who sees this a good news for US3. How bad news it is if in fact it does happen remains to be seen.

  55. Canada has access to the same intel as the US and UK – along with Australia and NZ, as part of the “5 Eyes” alliance, one presumes. There is *no* electronics ban on nonstop flights into Canada, despite ME carriers operating on several of them (e.g. EY AUH-YYZ, QR DOH-YUL, EK DXB-YYZ, RJ AMM-YUL). The Canadian government, with access to the same data, did not put *any* ban in place. It’s hardly like Canada is unsophisticated or reckless when it comes to security – in fact, when you consider the Air India midair bombing on a flight out of YVR many years ago, they likely have more of a reason to be actually on this case. So, that’s food for thought if nothing else.

    And to those who’ve mentioned that AC stands to benefit here, I’d say that may be true – if the Canadian government again chooses to not put a ban in place. It’s worth remembering that AC has been actively promoting connecting via Canada, not only to US outbound travellers but in Asian markets heading to South America, where a connection in the US now requires a visa, which it did not previously. AC has great nonstop coverage into a lot of secondary US markets which would require a connection for an overseas trip anyway, so why not connect in Toronto,say? Said another way, AC positioning themselves as either being just as convenient, more affordable, offering better service or as an alternative to barriers the US has been putting on international travel is nothing new.

  56. @ n lol I know that (but that’s not always been true everywhere though, at some airports airlines have provided security screenings), in any case I was being facetious.

  57. @Anthony
    “If there is such an epic threat from terrorism, why are the countries most impacted by terrorism — France, Germany, Sweden, etc. — not instituting a ban? ”

    Probably for the same reason why they let millions of un-vetted “refugees” settle in their countries and sat around hoping for the best when Hitler took over Europe.

  58. I am sorry but this electronics ban makes as much sense as making people fly naked.

  59. I had my company’s government security team reach out to their contacts at DOS and DHS. The report is that no such ban is being finalized. We’ll see.

  60. We shouldn’t forget that America lives in a paranoid state. As annoying as this electronic ban is, people can take there business elsewhere. It’s simple, don’t fly or go to America. There are plenty of other great destinations throughout the world where you can go to and take your business to. The world doesn’t evolve nor is it run by America.

    I certainly hope UK/Europe will apply the same policy for flights departing from the US cause the same threat is possible!

    For those flying through to/from Miami Airport, the baggage handlers are going to be very rich soon!

  61. I am missing somethings here.

    In this ban, notebook computers and tablets have to go into checked luggage because the scanning of checked luggage is more thorough when it comes to “rigged” electronic devices. Why can the drug “sniffing” technology that you see at security checks not detect explosives contained in tampered electronic devices? (Yes, I know that swabbing can detect explosives.)

    I heard that US flag carriers are exempt from the ban. Do US flag carriers use the same airport security checkpoints, the same airport system of scanning checked luggage, and the same airport personnel as non-US flag carriers? If so, what is magic about US flag carriers that make them immune to this type of attack?

    If airports outside of the US are at risk, where is the problem? Is it the religion of the country? Is it the personnel at the airport? It is the lack of friendliness with the US?

    Who is profiting economically from this ban? So far, I am not sure if the flying public is getting something from it. I am sure that funding for the TSA is helped. US flag carriers now have an economic advantage over their foreign competitors. I am sure some “intel” folks are getting some recognition for their work.

    All of this seems to be very fortuitous for some airlines and government agencies. I am doubt that there is much improvement in airline security and traveling safety.

  62. Aeromexico and Tijuana Airport (with the new direct access into USA) are foaming at the mouth. Good thing theyre stocking up with 787s.

  63. I truly hope this goes ahead. It may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to pointless security theatre.

  64. I don’t get it. My laptop in my briefcase or other carry-on is a threat, but my laptop in the cargo hold isn’t?

    Usually when something is put in place by politicians that makes absolutely no sense, my instinct is to follow the money, but in this case I can’t quite figure out who is going to profit from this.

  65. I’m sorry, I do have to chuckle! People expected to do without laptops and tablet! What is this world coming to??
    The reason I chuckle you ask? Perhaps my age will answer that question, I am 70. I recall life before laptops! Businessmen traveled and worked mid flight with those archaic tools called pencil and paper. Imagine that! What were they thinking?
    Perhaps the concern now should be time management? If the only time you have to do that work then perhaps you are doing something wrong.
    Utilize that time to reflect on what you might do different, read a book, look out the window, catch up on the sleep your body could use or simply stop and smell the roses!
    Life will go on, you will survive! You might not do drugs but you have an addiction! Deal with it!

  66. @Anne for many folks the issue is not being without their electronics for 8-15 hours but rather the risk of loss, damage or theft from checking the items. While I am glad you trust the baggage handlers with your pencils and paper I do not trust them with my electronics.

  67. When the EU retaliate should the US counterparts failed to deliver logical and comprehensive explanation, I’ll sit here watching with my popcorns.

  68. I can see why the cheap ways from NZ to Europe are through America now. Looks like we will have to pay $500 more pp. Great.

  69. saw this reported on local news yesterday, so I guess this “rumor” is pretty widespread at this point.

    I suspect it’s only a matter of time before such a ban would end up going worldwide since there’s nothing to stop a determined individual from routing TPAC instead of TATL. The economic impact of this will be enormous. People saying “read a book” are ridiculous. People don’t just need these things when they are actually on the plane. Those of us who enjoy photography might as well get a new hobby. Tourism will plummet even farther than it already has. And international business is really going to be taking a major hit.

    I have a trip to Europe booked for September. Looks like it will be the last one for a while.

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