In March, both the US and the UK implemented laptop bans for flights departing from several countries in the Middle East. Interestingly, we saw the UK exempt Qatar and the United Arab Emirates from this ban, allowing for the “big three” Middle Eastern airlines Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad to continue to operate flights to the UK un affected.
The fact that the US included the big three casted doubt on the intentions of the laptop ban. Many speculated that the motivation for including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in this policy stemmed at least in part, from an attempt to limit competition to the big three US legacy carriers: United, Delta, and American. This seemed even more possible considering that AUH airport has a US Pre-Clearance security terminal but still was affected by the ban.
Well, now, those suspicions may not be as warranted as many thought. There are very credible rumors that the US might be announcing that the laptop ban will soon extend to flights from Europe. This is hugely upsetting and seems like it will cause substantially more disruption than the prior ban targeting Middle East countries.
Many (including IATA) still question the efficacy of these policies, as it still seems like there are workarounds for terrorists (travel to different continent, set up device in US, design remote control, etc.) and there may even be risks with holding so many batteries in the cargo hold (where it would be harder to put out a fire). I can’t pretend to be a counter-terrorism expert here but on its face this ban just feels to be very “knee-jerkish.”
My biggest concern isn’t boredom on a plane. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not gong to be fun not being able to get work done on my MacBook and it’s really going to sting when/if I’m no longer able to take high quality DSLR photos of the different cabins we fly in for UponArriving.
But what worries me the most is the security for personal belongings. More passengers are going to have to risk having their electronics lost, stolen, or damaged. Everything from laptops to expensive cameras are going to be at risk. And even top cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve only cover damage to electronics up to $500 — that’s not even 1/3 of the value of one of my camera lenses. So I’m not sure who, if anyone, would pick up the tab in the event a valuable electronic is damaged.
Business travelers with classified or sensitive data stored on their computers may be forced to pass on flying or take up inconvenient routes through Canada or Latin America. While airlines may try to follow the lead of how some of the Middle Eastern carriers have tried to deal with the ban by offering iPads and laptops, I honestly don’t see airlines like United, American, and Delta offering anything like that.
There’s still no official word out yet. But rumors are swirling that an announcement could arrive as soon as Wednesday as US officials are weighing the advantages of expanding the ban against the possible impact on passengers.