LONDON — Britain joined the United States on Tuesday in banning passengers traveling from airports in several Muslim-majority countries from bringing laptops, tablets and other portable electronic devices on board with them when they fly.
The U.K. ban applies to six countries, while the U.S. ban applies to 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries.
Fliers can still travel with these items, but they must be packed in their checked baggage on U.S.- and U.K.-bound flights from airports across the countries, including busy transit hubs in Istanbul, Dubai and Doha, Qatar.
The British ban also includes some cellphones and is expected to apply to all airports in the six nations. The countries included in the British ban are Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
“Direct flights to the U.K. from these destinations can continue to operate to the U.K. subject to these new measures being in place,” a government spokesman said.
It’s unclear when the ban will take effect. “The affected airlines have already been informed, and we expect the measures to be in place in the next couple of days,” the spokesman said.
The decision to announce the ban was made during a meeting on aviation security measures held Tuesday by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had chaired similar meetings over the last weeks. British authorities also said they had reached out to U.S. officials before the announcement.
A government spokesman added that six British and eight foreign carriers were affected by the ban.
A spokesman for the prime minister’s office said the measures were based on the “same intelligence the U.S. relies on.”
Senior U.S. administration officials said the rules were prompted by “evaluated intelligence” that terrorists continue to target commercial aviation by “smuggling explosives in portable electronic devices.”
“Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration acting administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last-point-of-departure airports to the United States,” officials said late Monday.
Federal officials initially described the ban as indefinite. But a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, David Lapan, said the directive runs until Oct. 14, and could be extended for another year “should the evaluation of the threat remain the same.”
The officials would not provide details on the threats. One example they cited involved a bomb, possibly hidden in a laptop, that exploded on board a Somali plane going from Mogadishu to Djibouti, not a U.S.-bound flight.
However, a person familiar with the security warning said the government has long been concerned about the aspirations of a Syria-based terrorist group to build explosive devices hidden inside electronics in a way that would be hard to detect.
In 2014, such concerns led to a tightening of security procedures on U.S.-bound flights, but at the time, some officials said the design of such devices did not appear to have moved past the planning stages. One person familiar with the new restrictions said they were based on more recent intelligence that suggested terrorists had gotten further along in developing such hidden explosives.
James Norton, a homeland security consultant who was a ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security when the liquid ban went into effect just over a decade ago, said a sudden change like this signals a significant threat.
“It seems fairly urgent,” Norton said. “My initial reaction is this is based on some sort of information that the intelligence community came across as a whole. They are trying to address it working with the airlines and the countries directly trying to implement some sort of a plan.”
He said the electronic ban mirrors the sudden ban against liquids that went into effect Aug. 10, 2006, after British and U.S. intelligence uncovered a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 U.S.-bound passenger jets with liquid explosives hidden in carry-on luggage. Authorities arrested 24 suspects that day and launched new security measures that snarled air traffic. Travelers had to undergo special inspections after drinks and most other liquids and gels were banned as carry-on items.
“That happened overnight based on a bunch of arrests on an incredible threat,” Norton said Norton. In this case, the response suggests urgency to prevent devices from going onto U.S. bound aircraft from those specific countries.
“Evidence can be anything,” Norton said. “It is hard to know until they make some sort of announcement in terms of why they are doing this — why they picked those countries and those flights. My guess is just like with the liquid ban that they came across a potential threat.”
But another security expert questioned how the ban was applied.
“Why should I feel safer if the laptop is stowed in the belly of the plane and the perpetrator can use his iPhone to set if off?” said a senior official with an international travel organization. “I’m not personally privy to what [information] the TSA or DHS has, but I just don’t get it.”
The official, who asked not to be identified because he works in the industry, said that the logistics of enforcing the laptop ban will be daunting, particularly in instances where passengers take connecting flights elsewhere in the world before boarding a plane bound for the U.S.
“You’ve got to wonder, if somebody’s connecting and doesn’t have access to his checked bag to put his laptop in, what does he do?” the official asked. “I guess people will figure out that if you’re connecting in Casa Blanca, you’d better have your laptop in your checked bag.”
Under the restrictions, travelers to the United States from 10 mostly Middle Eastern airports will be required to put all personal electronic devices larger than a cellphone or smartphone in their checked baggage. U.S. airlines are not affected by the ban because none offer direct U.S.-bound flights from the affected airports.
Ten airports in eight countries — Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are affected. Officials said the airports were selected based on the “current threat picture.”
The airports are: Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Jordan, Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Egypt, Ataturk International Airport (IST) in Turkey, King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) and King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait International Airport (KWI) in Kuwait, Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) in Morocco, Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar, and Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in the United Arab Emirates.
Officials said the change will affect passengers who travel on roughly 50 daily flights. Crew members are not included in the device ban.
Turkey’s transport minister, Ahmet Arslan, criticized the ban Tuesday, telling reporters in Ankara that it was not “beneficial” for passengers and that Turkey already has stringent security measures in place, according to Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency. He added that Turkish officials had spoken about the regulations with their American counterparts and were discussing whether the Trump administration should “step back.”
Word of the ban was first made public Monday afternoon — not by administration officials but in a tweet sent out by Royal Jordanian Airlines. Initially, U.S. officials declined to comment on the report, saying only that they would provide an update “when appropriate.”
In the tweet, which was later deleted, airline officials advised passengers of the new requirements that would affect travelers on its flights to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal.
“Following instructions from certain concerned U.S. departments, we kindly inform our dearest passengers departing to and arriving from the United States that carrying any electronic or electrical device on board the flight cabins is strictly prohibited,” the tweet read.
It noted that cellphones and medical devices are excluded from the ban.
Emirates Airlines issued a similar statement Tuesday, saying “electronic devices larger than a cellphone/smart phone, excluding medical devices, cannot be carried in the cabin of the aircraft” on U.S.-bound flights. The U.S. routes of Emirates include Dulles International Airport.
Late Monday evening, the airline issued a follow-up tweet: “Further updates will be announced soon regarding #electronicban.”
U.S. officials began outlining the new rules to carriers Sunday.
A spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents international carriers including Royal Jordanian, said they were not informed of the new restrictions and were working to get additional information from U.S. authorities.
Officials said airlines will have 96 hours to comply with the restrictions. Carriers that fail to follow them risk losing their authorization to operate in the United States.
James Buck, a professional photographer from Burlington, Vt., was vacationing in Jordan when he read about the ban on Facebook on Monday. As of Tuesday, he said it was still unclear if his Royal Jordanian flight scheduled to leave at 3 a.m. Thursday from Queen Alia International Airport to Montreal will be affected.
“It is really scary because I don’t know what the ban is about. I don’t know if there is a specific threat,” he said. “It only applies to these airlines, so should I try to rebook myself on another airline to get out of here?”
Like other travelers, Buck has plenty of questions about the ban. He said he hasn’t heard from the airline or seen any government notices for travelers. The questions from travelers on social media, mostly, are about what exactly the ban means. Does it apply to his cameras. Can he bring a big smartphone?
“It’s troubling to me that the State Department hasn’t posted a travel warning on its website or any travel explanation,” Buck said. “Is there any current situation that we need to be aware of? Has there been an attack? Has there been a threat? Has something changed? It is unbelievable that the information was disseminated so poorly.”
Information that travelers have received also has been conflicting and inaccurate, he said. First, he read that the ban would take effect immediately and last only 96 hours. Then the airline said it had 96 hours to implement the ban and that it would last indefinitely.
“So now it’s not even clear if the ban will be in place by the time I fly or not,” Buck said. “The worst part of it is they are not telling us whether there is a threat or not. I have no idea whether it’s safe to fly or not.”
Buck had been traveling in Jordan since March 13, photographing sites and the desert, and carrying equipment that is worth half his annual salary, he said.
“I’ve got a backpack full of cameras and a laptop and stuff,” he said, adding that he’d spent the entire day Tuesday driving all over Amman trying to find a hard case. “No luck.”
Noack reported from London. Aratani and Lazo reported from Washington. Devlin Barrett, Ashley Halsey, Carol Morello and Brian Murphy contributed to this report from Washington. Zeynep Karatas contributed to this report from Istanbul.