United States airport authorities have implemented an “emergency amendment” that bans passengers from possessing electronic devices larger than a cell phone in certain situations. As confirmed by U.S. authorities, the ban applies to passengers coming directly into the U.S. on international flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa. The airports are based in eight Muslim-majority countries, and the ban, which took effect today, March 21, affects nine airlines.
The Guardian reports that the new policy was circulated to affected airports and airlines yesterday, March 20, via a "confidential" email from the U.S. Transport Safety Administration (TSA). Passengers from affected flights will no longer be permitted to bring any electronic devices larger than a cell phone (i.e., laptops, tablets, portable gaming consoles, and Kindles) into the plane's cabin. According to CNN, the ban will affect more than 50 flights daily, and the only people exempted from it are members of the airplane's crew. All passengers, even U.S. citizens, from these direct flights will be subject to the new policy.
According to Reuters, the ban applies to international airports from Cairo, Istanbul, Kuwait City, Doha, Casablanca, Amman, Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. Both Reuters and The Guardian report that the known carriers flying direct flights to the U.S. from these countries are Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), Kuwait Airways [KA.UL], Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad Airways.
Some details regarding the ban still remain unclear, such as how airlines will implement the ban. Also unclear is the duration, with U.S. officials reportedly stating it will be in place "indefinitely," while Emirates told TechCrunch the ban will be in effect until October 14, 2017.
The United Kingdom announced its own ban soon after the U.S.'s was confirmed. It reportedly bans passengers from bringing electronics larger than a typical smartphone into the cabins of flights directly to the U.K. from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.
An Unclear Situation
Various U.S. officials and some of the affected airlines have released statements regarding the U.S.'s ban. Royal Jordanian Airlines released a tweet informing the public about the ban. It was promptly taken down after the airline was informed that it could have violated the circular by making it known. Similarly, Saudia confirmed the ban via a tweet from its official account.
Various experts have voiced their opinions on the ban as well. Turkey’s transport, maritime, and communication minister Ahmet Arslan told the New York Times that he believes the ban will negatively impact the airline industries of both his country and the U.S.: “Our problem is not how the practice would take place. The issue is it can decrease the comfort of the passengers and reduce the numbers of passengers. We are emphasizing that this is not in the benefit of passengers, and we think that they should step back from this or ease it.”
Egyptian lawmaker and journalist Osama Sharshar said he believed that President Trump issued the ban to “please the right-wing extremists in America.” He went on to add, “It will terribly affect me as a journalist, a lawmaker, and a regular Egyptian. I work on planes all the time. And the flight to the States is very long. What are people supposed to do for 14 or so hours?”
The reason the ban was suddenly introduced has not been confirmed. “We have no comment on potential security precautions, but will provide any update as appropriate,” according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson David Lapan.
Other U.S. officials, however, have hinted to a potential terrorist threat as the trigger. One official said that intelligence "indicates terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation" by "smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items." According to another official, "Just evaluating all the intelligence, we believe that the threat is still prominent against aircraft and airports."
Most airlines prohibit passengers from including anything that has a lithium-ion battery in a checked bag. Whether this new ban will give them that ability has not been revealed. If it doesn't, passengers would have no options for bringing large electronic devices along on these flights. The airlines have until Friday, March 24, to comply with the ban.