Back in March, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new policy, which banned passengers from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa from having computers and some other electronics with them in the plane cabin on direct flights into the United States. Now DHS may expand the ban to flights from Europe as well, and airlines are freaking out about it. considering it.
The plan to ban electronics that are larger than a smartphone isn’t officially in place for flights from Europe, and U.S. authorities are still considering it.
“As threats change, so too will TSA’s security requirements,” the Department of Homeland Security’s page with information about the current ban warns.
It’s the sheer numbers that have airlines and the rest of the travel industry concerned, explains Bloomberg News. While the current ban affects a relatively small number of travelers and airlines, there are thousands of flights each week to the U.S. from Europe. Many of the passengers on these jets are business travelers who don’t want to be separated from their laptops and tourists who want to watch movies on their tablets.
Yesterday, DHS Secretary John Kelly held a meeting about possible rule changes with representatives of major U.S. airlines. While none of them have direct flights from the airports in the Middle East and Africa that are part of the ban put in place in March, they do operate direct flights from Europe that would be affected if the electronics ban were expanded.
Airlines have suggested other ways to screen devices to make sure they’re not bombs, which include watching users turn their electronics on, or checking individual devices for explosives residue. They do not want to tell their customers that electronics aren’t to be used on board.
One trade group, the Global Business Travel Association, suggested that perhaps expanding the TSA’s PreCheck program and allowing members to carry on their devices would be a fair compromise. The catch: Foreign airports don’t accept PreCheck status, and the ban would affect inbound flights from other countries.
If a ban did go into effect, airlines could try what some Middle Eastern airlines are trying now: They’re giving business customers loaner computers.