It’s difficult to find anyone who isn’t concerned about a potential extension of the laptop ban to flights from Europe to the US.
Questions about the effectiveness of the present laptop ban and concerns that the ban may be extended further to Europe abound from travellers, airlines, aviation industry associations, governments, and even aviation safety regulators.
Concerns in all corners
The laptop ban, as it stands, has proven problematic for those airlines currently affected and their customers. To reduce some of the inconvenience, airlines are offering premium customers loaner laptops and tablets.
The impact of the ban over the last 30 days has been significant, however. The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) says that those airlines have removed more than one million annual passenger long-haul seats from US destination airports. Joe Leader, CEO of APEX, has suggested a green-lighting program which would pre-clear passengers to travel with their electronic devices in the cabin. He suggests using biometric facial recognition to confirm the identity of approved passengers.
“Fighting potential threats means finding government solutions that do not take the laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, and large phones out of the hands of the millions of law-abiding passengers that use them every day,” Leader says. “We owe our air travellers worldwide the best options to make their flights enjoyable and productive.”
APEX statistics show that we have become accustomed to using our electronic devices in-flight, and these figures also highlight the magnitude of the devices which would need to be placed in aircraft holds were the ban to be extended further.
- 43% of worldwide airline passengers bring a tablet onboard with 70% of these passengers using their tablet device in-flight
- 38% of worldwide airline passengers bring a laptop computer onboard with 42% of these passengers using their laptop in-flight
- 22% of worldwide airline passengers bring e-Readers onboard with 77% of these passengers using their e-Reader in-flight.
Airline group IATA has also voiced concerns over the laptop ban and its deployment, arguing that governments and airlines should jointly coordinate a workable solution to threats from malicious actors.
“Governments need to share information, they need to consult with industry, and they need to support the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as it develops a global aviation security plan,” says IATA Director General and CEO.
An IATA spokesperson says that 130,000 flights a year (one way) would be affected were the ban to extend to Europe. Reuters, citing USDOT data, reports that 30 million travellers flew from Europe to the US in 2016.
Airline executives are reportedly meeting with US Government officials today to discuss the risks and repercussions.
Reuters also reports that EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, have issued a letter to John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, urging a dialogue before any such extension to the ban were enacted.
“We therefore reiterate our willingness to pursue constructive dialogue and we propose that meetings are held as a matter of urgency, both at political and technical level, to jointly assess the risk and review possible common measures,” they wrote.
The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) have expressed, once again, that the continuation or further extension of a ban on laptops and large electronic devices on commercial flights will have a negative impact on business travel.
Following reports that an imminent extension of the so-called “laptop ban” might include all U.S.-bound flights from Europe, Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), issued the following statement:
“Actions taken by governments to protect the safety of their citizens shouldn’t create more questions than answers—and many questions remain about the initial electronic devices ban that this potential expansion to all of Europe doesn’t answer: Why did the U.S. and the U.K. target different countries for the initial ban, and why didn’t other countries follow suit? Why are laptops the target of such a ban despite the United States’ investment in airport security and screening procedures? If the ban is implemented more broadly, will other countries institute their own policies that can further complicate the travel picture? How do these bans increase security when they are easily circumvented, even if all of Europe is subject to them?
“Everyone supports greater security in the face of the complex, persistent threat of terrorism. But this ban disrupts business travellers’ ability to travel and remain productive—adding it to the list of disastrous, cumbersome airline security policies we’ve seen over the years, from restrictions on liquids to removing shoes at security checkpoints. Travellers deserve better solutions, and we call on our governments to deliver them.”
Safety is also a concern
The greatest objection to the ban is that it might solve a security risk by creating a safety risk. ICAO has called for a review of the impact to the carriage of large numbers of lithium-ion battery powered electronic devices stored in aircraft holds.
Some intelligence sources explain that the nature of the explosives the laptop ban addresses makes storage in the aircraft hold a safer alternative. However, this seems to ignore the tragic loss of life when Pan Am 103 exploded in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland. The explosive device, in this case, was in a checked item placed in the aircraft hold.
— FlightChic | ✈️💺 (@designerjet) May 11, 2017
Even if a method of remote detonation would not work in the case of this present threat, as intelligence agencies suggest, the reality is that we have known incidents of aeroplane accidents caused by lithium-ion battery fires.
Everyone agrees that keeping the skies secure is important
Despite objections to the existing laptop ban, everyone agrees that keeping flights secure is essential. No one wants to lower the standard of security for air travel. But, as Joe Leader says:
“We owe our air travellers worldwide the best options to make their flights enjoyable and productive.”
There has to be a way to address the risk without inconveniencing millions of law-abiding travellers who just want to get a little work done in-flight or enjoy entertainment onboard.