Could Electronics Soon Be Banned From Flights?

There have been quite a few news headlines lately about how al-Qaida is apparently planning five attacks on commercial airlines flying to Europe around Christmas.

I have several flights to/from Europe around the holidays, so when my mom heard the news today she instantly sprung into “scared” mode. My response whenever these kinds of threats are discovered is to say that I’m ultimately happier knowing about the threats which have been uncovered, as opposed to the countless number of threats we don’t know about. After all, what you don’t know about can’t hurt you… until it does.

Anyway, I’m not an intelligence expert so won’t chime in further there. Instead I’ll just share what’s apparently being considered as a possible preventive measure.

The United States and United Kingdom are considering banning carry-ons and electronics in cabins on flights this holiday season.

Via NPR:

In response, counterterrorism officials on both sides of the Atlantic have been discussing how to prevent the attacks. One remedy under consideration is to ban all carry-on baggage, though there is some question as to whether airlines would push back against such a draconian provision.

Another possible remedy: banning electronic devices from the passenger cabin. Officials are discussing whether to require that electronics such as cellphones, iPads and computers be placed in the cargo hold with checked baggage, which goes through a much more rigorous screening process. Detecting a bomb, if there is one, would be more likely.

As far as I’m concerned this simply isn’t an option. There’s no way airlines can pull this off. On so many levels. You simply can’t expect passengers to check their valuable electronics, not to mention completely disconnect — without a cell phone, laptop, etc. — for as long as they’re flying. What is this, 2005? 😉


I’m not denying the threat is real, and it sucks that the rate at which technology is improving also applies to the “bad guys.” But banning electronics and/or carry-ons is such a logistical nightmare that you might as well just stop flying, in my opinion.

Do you see any way that they’d be able to pull off a ban on electronics and carry-ons?


  1. Makes me really scared given that I’m flying to Frankfurt from an Arab country (Cairo, Egypt) in Christmas..

    Can you pleeeeaaaase give me a link/send me the picture you had as your display picture? I’m dying to put it on my phone.

  2. I’m doing SEA – HKG and back in two weeks. The thought of nothing with me in the cabin for 14 hours makes me consider canceling the trip.

  3. I am good with whatever it takes to keep everyone safe. IF I have to carry on a book in my hand and leave everything else to be checked so be it. We fly to Europe in early summer and I do have some safety concerns.

  4. For years, tourists to North Korea had to give their mobile phones to the tour guide during their entire stay in DPRK. The tour guide would simply collect them, put them in a bag, and store them in a safe place somewhere until we went back to the airport for our trip home. I believe that policy has now changed but that was how they did it back in 2010 when I went. Thus, one way airlines could do it is to collect the electronics before boarding and then hand them out again after arrival. It would be a logistical nightmare for sure but if it will keep everyone safe, then so be it.
    2005? Really? They had IFE movies-on-demand (at least Emirates did), RAZR flip phones, and Nintendo DS back then! You probably meant 1995. 😉

  5. @Jennifer B: you’re the reason the terrorists do the shit they do in the first place. I hate to break it to you but at some point you’re going to die. Changing how we live for minuscule probability events is ridiculous.

  6. Especially since they just showed us yesterday how Li-ion batteries in the cargo hold can explode. So you wouldn’t even be able to put your electronics in a checked bag (which no one would ever willingly agree to do anyway).

  7. Another reason checking all the electronics might not be feasible is theft. There are occasional stories about baggage handles stealing stuff from checked bags already. Imagine if almost every checked bag had a Ipad, laptop or Iphone in it. One has to imagine theft would go up significantly.

  8. @Lucky – you seem to forget that the UK DID indeed implement a complete ban on all carry-on items (not just carry-on luggage, but also any non-clothing items in your pockets such as pens, coins, gum, etc..) in August 2006. That was later simplified into the “war on water” liquids ban which was unrolled throughout the world.

  9. @Paul I can’t agree more – the exact reason most terrorists do their jobs is to disrupt our daily lives and as such, if we are changing so many things and restricting our lives, they’re secretly winning.

  10. Paul, my thoughts exactly. After 13 years of “do anything you want to me (and my rights) just keep me safe from “those bad guys” you would think our attitudes would change once we realize how much we have willingly given up in the “war on terror.” Yet people still don’t feel safe. For many people, it is still 9/12/01. I think the bad guys have already won.

    Anyway, ban electronics completely and it would have a devastating impact on the airline industry (the desired effect from terrorists?). Personally, it would negatively impact my choice of taking a long haul flight to or from Europe.

  11. We should all board the planes completely naked. All passengers the way they came into this world. No jewelry, watches, purses, backpacks, electronics, clothes, NOTHING!!!!! And I will be very comfortable in having all my personal electronic devices in my checked bag because I know the airlines will take very good care of my luggage. They carry them with care, do not throw them as a basketball or anything like that. Also, who needs electronics or any sort of entertainment on board during long flights if you can sleep like a baby in the middle seat of the economy class? Seats are so comfortable, lots of leg space and the food…OMG, so good!!!

  12. @Paul & @ w – I think you both are blowing the impact that terrorist have on our everyday life out of proportion. I will gladly go thru the nud-o-scope or opt for pat down if it improves security, impact on me, a little time. I would happily forego my carry-on luggage in favor of checked luggage in the name of security, what impact is this having on me? A little extra time spent at baggage claim? Oh no they have won!

    I would argue that people with their roll aboard luggage cause more inconvenience on travelers then any terroristic threat. I never understood why airlines charge for checked bags and allow carryon luggage for free? You have to staff the baggage handlers regardless so just offer a free checked bag and force a $25.00 charge per carryon item that won’t fit under seat. Boarding and Deplaning speeds will increase without everyone lugging there crap down the aisle.

    Most international flights offer some form of in seat entertainment so no need to have your electronics. Travelers who “need” there device can submit to additional screening prior to boarding, but should do so at their expense and time. Arrive 3 hours early and pay $25.00 to the TSA to approve your device for flight.

  13. Seeing as how they can’t manage to prohibit people from using electronics during take off and landing… I would be amazed if they can keep people from smuggling them on board…

  14. @phil: yeah checking your phone/laptop/ipad and not being able to work during business trips and having it perfectly safe in the baggage hold (because there is never theft there and bags are treated well), a little more time in baggage claim, a little more time with security, using perfectly “safe” nude-o-scopes, taking off your shoes and jackets, getting your privates groped, having the government read your emails, having the government track your metadata in your phone, having the government put tracking devices on your car.

    Yeah, the terrorist have in no way impacted our way of life because of our fear of extremely low probability events. Meanwhile keep overeating and texting while driving since those aren’t the real threats to your life.

  15. @Phil, check yourself man. Did you really mean to equate “the inconvenience of roll-aboard luggage with a terroristic threat?”

    See, this fear makes us all crazy. But, in the end, what better way to control a populace than by scaring the sh!te out of them on a regular basis.

  16. hi ben, why can’t one expect people to completely disconnect while they are flying? what is wrong with sleeping, reading a magazine, or just being bored, or doing nothing? people should be able to go 1,2,3, 14 hours, etccc… without connecting….

  17. @paul: Agree with all you said AS LONG AS it is my own decision if I want to disconnect and sleep, read or get bored. When I am forced to do that it changes the conversation. There is so much I can take in terms of being forced to reduce my own decisions to a point where I prefer to stay home and not travel during Holidays so I am not forced to follow rules I don’t want to follow. Simple as that: I won’t break game rules but if I am not in agreement with those rules I won’t play that game. If I cannot board with my valuable personal belongings, cannot turn any electronics on during a long trip, etc… I will stay home and enjoy the time with my family.

  18. @other paul, the problem with disconnecting is that there are millions of people worldwide that travel for work and who use that time as part of their workday. So it’s an extra 1,2,3, 14 hours of their lives that they are going to have to do work when they land or beforehand instead of spending time with their families or doing whatever else they want to do.

  19. I imagine a mother with an infant that gets the news about no carry on’s before a 8 hours flight: I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to take extra nappies with you, it’s for your own security 😀

  20. I don’t know what to think of this, but I think the article did make clear that any consideration on a carryon and electronic ban would be for a short-term period (a week either end around Christmas) and for U.S. to Europe flights only, if not a subset of those flights. It’s still draconian and unprecedented, but if you’re flying to Hong Kong, you needn’t be concerned that this will somehow affect you.

    If there were a very real and very directed threat and a limited, targeted ban could eliminate or frustrate that threat, I’d be inclined to support it in theory, but confused as to how it would work in practice. Carry-ons, okay. But electronic devices? How’s someone to know whether there is an iPod Nano in your pocket?

    Obviously the level of security is different, but if you ever see a TV show being taped you’ll be asked to surrender your cell phone at security before entering the studio and they do a patdown. The first time I did this, I complied and then had to sit through a 5+ hour taping without any sort of electronic entertainment, while looking over at dozens of people who snuck theirs through anyway. Second time I did this, I just hid my cell phone in an inside pocket of my jacket and breezed on through. If someone is committed to bringing their iPhone on a flight, they’ll find a way!

  21. yeah, a week ban will work great, it’s definitely not security theater (like making us carry a bunch of little bottles of liquids instead of one big bottle because the terrorists would never figure out a way to combined the little bottles of liquids on a plane). I mean if we ban everything for the week of their plan they won’t figure to do it the day after the ban ends. It’s a perfect response!

  22. What about those devices that block cellphones from working?
    Then, everybody could keep their expensive electronics, no extra time involved hauling away luggage, and we all stay safe!
    I think Israel invented this device.

  23. @haha, I think your comment ignores the fact that Al Qaeda, at least, likes symbolism in its timing. They want to strike, or at least create fear, at the height of the holiday travel season. They could push an attack off until mid January, sure, but that takes away from their intended impact, I’d think.

    I mean, what the hell do I know, and sure, lots of security is “theater,” but I do tend to think that these measures do complicate existing plans and plots.

  24. @Nick If there was a real threat the terrorists would no doubt act when they can even if it’s not on their ideal day. A week or two ban is beyond ridiculous. 9/11 didn’t have a significant meaning on 9/10/01, did it take away from its impact?

    This entire thing (much like a lot of what’s happened since 9/11) is ridiculous.

  25. The odds of me being on a plane that is the target of a terror plot — esssentially 0%. The odds of me being severely inconvenienced by the governmental response to such a plot — essentially 100%.

    I’ll take my chances with the terrorists.

  26. As an EOD guy I can tell you that the devices used to detect explosives (I’m assuming that’s the big threat) work and they work well. Granted the amount of explosives needed to disable a plane is relatively small, properly trained dogs and the machines are incredibly effective at detecting even minute traces. Those two things are already being implemented. If the threat is explosive related then increasing random checks and the number of dogs would be more effective than an outright ban on electronics or carry on bags.
    Someone also asked about cell phone jammers which basically pick certain frequencies to block. Theoretically they could be implemented without harming aircraft systems but I’m sure the risk isn’t something airlines aren’t willing to take.
    While I don’t know much about TSA competence or procedures I do know that Bomb Appraisal Officers are assigned to pretty much every decent sized airport. These guys are almost all former military EOD guys with a smattering of former law enforcement. They have the experience to deal with issues during screening.
    The government needs to realize the current explosive detection procedures work and they should rely on it instead of some kneejerk reaction that is so common.
    My only caveat is I’m sure they know things we don’t but it still seems extreme.

    Also nothing I mentioned here was classified information so no worries there 😉

  27. Not sure I really believe checked luggage is checked a lot more thorough. Is this really true and if so why can’t your carry on then be checked better? Do they have more trained people checking the machines for checked luggage or what is the reason?

    I think the whole thing is way overblown, sure there is a danger but life is inherently dangerous, I step into my car every day knowing that 100’s of people die the same day in a car world wide. Maybe we should all stop driving.

  28. I have two points on this. First, I work a lot of live shows where I have $10K cameras and the like. I’ll ride in the hold before you put my baby down there. Also, lots of the time I’ll get an email, document, etc. 10 minutes before takeoff that needs to be in the client’s hands in four hours, and I have a three hour flight ahead of me. I could lose money or even the gig if I were unable to work on the flight.

    Secondly, I’m an approved shipper with Delta Cargo, not to mention checking sometimes 20 items on either United or Delta. 9/10 times something in a case or bag triggers a search (most of the time a computer runs the CT, not a human). These searches basically amount to a quick poke around, maybe a swab. I had an entire EH size bin filled with 2 liters once, and he just swabbed the outside of one and shoved it through. Checked baggage screening isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    I will say, however, that the search did appear to be more topical due to possible stereotyping. The TSA agent looked at my MEDIA badge, the fact that I’m a younger white male wearing a suit, and made conversation about the Bears for the five minutes it took to screen my cases. This might signify a bit of a move towards Israeli-style (BDO) screening, which I’m ok with, as long as they’re actually trained and not just a certification test online like most of the TSOs.

  29. I had a flight MAD-LHR-JFK during that brief window in 2006 when no carryons whatsoever were allowed — just clothing, passport and wallet. Not even newspapers, magazines, books. It was horrible. Unbelievably boring flight, massive delays because of all the confusion (I was supposed to leave Heathrow at 7pm and didn’t get home to NY until 5am), AND they lost my luggage at LHR (suddenly they had to process twice as many checked bags — go figure!). Going back to that would be a real disincentive to fly.

  30. Figure if it would happen airlines would keep it quiet for the first day. As the news breaks, people complain, but most would go with it. I would definitely cancel and refund my flight. If after all the money we’ve poured into the TSA, they can’t handle this, we all deserve a refund.

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