US and Britain ban carry-on laptops, cameras, tablets on some flights

Photo of Geoffrey Thomas

What does the ban on consumer electronics larger than a mobile phone aboard flights to the US and UK from certain Middle East and African airports mean for travellers?

The United States Transportation Security Administration's ban on virtually all consumer electronics except cell phones from carry-on luggage aboard flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa by nine foreign airlines will have a devastating impact on travel.

US-bound travellers from Perth via the Middle East will be affected from March 25, with all electronic goods except mobiles to be only carried in checked baggage.

The affected airports are Amman, Cairo, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Kuwait City, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The banned items include laptops, tablets and cameras.

The TSA said the ban related to a changed threat environment, but at the same time indicated there was no specific or credible threat of an imminent attack.

The ban only applies to the last point of departure to the US. Consequently, a laptop-carrying passenger could board an Air France flight at Istanbul and connect in Paris on Delta Air Lines to New York.

According to the US-based Business Travel Coalition (BTC), the ban is even more questionable given that “Abu Dhabi has sophisticated airport security operations sufficient to qualify for pre-clearance with US Customs and Border Protection officers located there”.

It adds that “many TSA observers will no doubt question this ban" and goes on to say: “Few aviation experts would suggest that it is prudent to load an aircraft hold with hundreds of electronics with lithium batteries, some of which could be overcharged or damaged.

“If a battery catches fire in an aircraft cabin, as with the Samsung Note 7, it can be dealt with promptly, but a fire in the hold a thousand miles out in the Atlantic Ocean is another matter.”

On top of these questions is the issue of valuables.

For years the TSA has implored travelers not to put valuables in their checked baggage because of theft and damage from handling, says the BTC.

Now expensive laptops, tablets, e-readers, portable DVD players, electronic game units, travel printers/scanners and cameras will have to be checked-in.

The UK has joined the ban but has not included flights from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, prompting analysts to describe the US action against these locations as politically motivated.

The big three US airlines have been lobbying President Trump for months to curb the power of the big three Middle East Airlines – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

In the stroke of a pen, those airlines' flights to the US have been crippled.

The farcical aspect to this ban is that, according to the BTC, there are services to the US from no fewer than 250 international airports and any would-be terrorist simply needs to go through one of the other 240.

For Perth travellers wanting to fly to the US east coast with just one stop, the best options now are Cathay Pacific or two stops with Singapore Airlines, Qantas or Virgin Australia.  

Picture at top by Getty Images.

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