In April, Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “We’ve said we will continue to evaluate the threat environment and make determinations based on that assessment, but we have not made any decisions on expanding the current restrictions against large electronic devices in aircraft cabins from selected airports,” however sources have confirmed that DHS officials are officially considering the expansion of the current electronics ban in place against flights departing from certain Middle East countries to the United States. The expansion of this ban would include flights to Europe.

On Thursday (May 11th), according to Reuters, DHS officials are planning to meet with airline officials to discuss security issues, where the issue of expanding the electronics ban is almost certain to be discussed. In addition, Homeland Security John Kelly is expected to give a classified briefing to senators about domestic threats, including those involved with aviation.

The ban began in late March, with 96 hours given to airlines to comply with the first round of restrictions on flights from the Middle East. The United Kingdom also instituted an carry-on electronics ban on flights from certain destinations in Africa and the Middle East. Non-stop flights to the U.S. abroad Egyptair, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Saudia and Turkish Airlines were affected by the electronics ban, however no U.S. airlines were affected as at the time of the beginning of the ban they did not fly to the affected destinations. However, with this expected expansion of the ban to Europe, it is expected that U.S. airlines will be heavily hit, especially during the peak summer season.

Map of countries and major airports affected by the current electronics ban. Credits: ABC News

Reuters reported on May 10th that there were many challenges for this ban to be put into place, including how to ensure that lithium batteries stored in the luggage holds of planes do not explode in midair. European regulators have already warned that forcing customers to check in these devices could compromise the safety of the tens of thousands of passengers who fly across the Atlantic each day. However, Reuters also reported that on May 8th, the International Civil Aviation Organization began an effort to craft guidelines for the use of laptops and other portable electronics in passenger aircraft cabins. The creation of this effort was promoted after the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other countries complained to the ICAO that their airlines had been unfairly penalized by the U.S.’ decision.

The current ban prohibits any electronics from being taken into the cabin larger that are larger than a cell phone. Laptops and tablets are the most common items banned from entering the cabin, however there have been cases of large cell phones being banned as well.

The extension of this ban could have a huge impact on U.S. carriers including American, Delta and United, as these airlines tend to operate a number of summer seasonal services to Europe and place a large amount of resources into their European operations around this time. Airlines affected by the ban have already begun to implement operations to minimize the inconvenience, such as Turkish Airlines, which both allow passengers to check-in their electronics at the gate before departing. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have gone farther, allowing premium passengers to use complimentary tablets and laptops provided by the airline while inflight, while offering free or discounted wifi.

Most airlines with flights originating in the Middle East now allow you to check in your electronics at the gate before flying to the US; for instance, Turkish Airlines places all electronics in company suitcases, and upon arrival, passengers may reclaim their electronic device. Photo Credits: Boarding Area / Live and Let’s Fly

While these airlines have attempted to minimize the impact on the passenger experience, it is unknown if U.S. airlines will be able to get an operation like this running, as the size of their European operations are much larger in comparison to those airlines’ operations to the United States. In addition, with airlines beginning to charge for luggage more often, it is a complete possibility that passengers will be forced to pay in order to bring their tablet or computer to Europe, if the ban goes forward.

This is a developing story. Check back soon for updates.

Categories: Industry Talk