European governments are holding urgent talks Friday with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, alarmed at a proposed expansion of the U.S. ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from the EU.
Such a move, which some airline officials expect will happen, would create logistical chaos on the world’s busiest corridor of air travel — as many as 65 million people fly on trans-Atlantic routes a year.
The current ban, in place on 10 mostly Middle Eastern cities since March, affects about 50 flights per day.
Chief among the concerns are whether any new threat prompted the proposal, said European Commission transport spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, who confirmed the talks. She said the EU had no new information about a specific security concern.
U.S. officials have said the decision in March to bar laptops and tablets from the cabins of some international flights, mostly from the Mideast, wasn’t based on any specific threat but on longstanding concerns about extremists targeting jetliners.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security organized a telephone conference with “key European partners” — France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy. It will be a ministerial level call. The French attendee is expected to be Louis Gautier, secretary general for defense and national security.
A French official with direct knowledge about Friday’s meeting said France planned to push back against the measure, saying there was no information to suggest a significant increase in the terror threat. Friday marks the final working day of the current French administration. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan.
Jenny Burke, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said no final decision has been made on expanding the restriction.
But Homeland Security officials met Thursday with high-ranking executives of the three leading U.S. airlines — American, Delta and United — and the industry’s leading U.S. trade group, Airlines for America, to discuss expanding the laptop policy to flights arriving from Europe.
Two airline officials who were briefed on the discussions said Homeland Security gave no timetable for an announcement, but they were resigned to its inevitability. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.
The U.S. airlines still hope to have a say in how the policy is put into effect at airports to minimize inconvenience to passengers. The initial ban on passengers bringing large electronics devices into the cabin hit hardest at Middle Eastern airlines. Emirates, based in Dubai, cited the policy in hurting demand and leading to its decision to reduce flights to the U.S.
Alain Bauer, president of the CNAPS, a French regulator of private-sector security agents, including those checking baggage and passengers in France’s airports, predicted “chaotic” scenes initially if the ban was instituted.
“Imagine the number of people who carry their laptops and tablets onto planes — not just adults, but also children,” he told the AP.
He said it would slow passage through security checks as people try to negotiate a way of keeping their laptops.
“It’s not like losing your water bottle or your scissors. It will take more time to negotiate,” he said.
“You need a lot of time to inform them and a lot of time for it to enter people’s heads until it becomes a habit,” he said. “After a week of quite big difficulties, 95 percent of people will understand the practicalities.”
Leicester reported from Paris. Alicia Caldwell in Washington; David Koenig in Dallas; and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed.