Laptop ban begins today in cabins of nine airlines flying non-stop to US from Mideast and Africa – USA TODAY
A new travel ban may mean laptops, tablets and other large electronics have to stay in checked luggage on non-stop flights to the U.S. from certain airports in the Middle East and Africa.
WASHINGTON âÂ The U.S. government began notifying nine foreign airlines in the Middle East and Africa at 3 a.m. ET Tuesday that personal electronics larger than cellphones will be banned indefinitely in the cabins of aboutÂ 50 direct flights daily to the U.S.
The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, and the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration, Huban Gowadia, decided that greater security was needed based on intelligence about airlines that fly non-stop from 10 airports to the U.S., according to four senior administration officials who spoke to reporters on background to discuss security measures.
âEvaluated intelligence indicates that terrorists continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,â said a senior administration official.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, fully supported the security precautions Tuesday after being briefed about them during the weekend.
“These steps are both necessary and proportional to the threat,” Schiff said. “The global aviation system remains a top target and proper security requires that we continually adapt our defenses.”
No imminent threat was reported. But the targeted airlines will have 96 hours to ensure that passengers stow all of their tablets, e-readers, DVD players, cameras, game units, travel printers and scanners âÂ any electronics larger than a cellphone â in checked luggage rather than in carry-on.
The officials wouldnât disclose why it was safer to have the electronics in cargo than in the cabin.
If an airline ignores the restrictions, security officials will ask the Federal Aviation Administration to revoke the airlineâs certificate to fly to the U.S.
Homeland Security and State Department officials began notifying officials in the affected countries about the looming restrictions on Sunday.
The nine airlines affected are: Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Moroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
âFor those guests bound for the U.S., this must be done at the point of origin which may not necessarily be at Abu Dhabi International Airport,” Etihad said in a statement Tuesday, with rules going into effect March 25. âSafety and security remain the highest priority for Etihad Airways and we will continue to assist passengers in complying with this directive.”
The 10 international airports where those airlines fly directly to the U.S. are: Queen Alia in Jordan, Cairo in Egypt, Ataturk in Turkey, King Abdulaziz and King Khalid in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Mohamed V in Morocco, Doha in Qatar, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.
Word of the ban began to spread Monday when Royal Jordanian and Saudi Arabian airlines each tweeted to their passengers that laptops and other electronics would no longer be allowed in the cabin on flights to the U.S.
âThe effort was not focused specifically on any one location or country,â said a senior administration official. âIt is really addressing the threat and how we perceive the threat, and what weâre doing is what we think is the right thing at the right place to address the threat and guarantee the safety of our traveling public.â
The ban doesnât affect U.S. airlines because none fly directly from the airports or countries involved. The officials didnât respond directly to a question about the possibility of a terrorist in one of the affected countries taking a connecting flight to the U.S.
âWe continue to evaluate and put in place security measures both seen and unseen to address all aspects of this threat,â a senior administration official said.
The order was based on intelligence that officials wouldnât disclose. But the Russian Metrojet destroyed over EgyptÂ by a suspected bomb in October 2015, the explosion aboard a Daallo Airlines flight in Somalia in February 2016, and the bombingsÂ at airports in Brussels in March 2016 and Istanbul in June 2016 each contributed to the higher threat level. Security experts have said the Daallo bomb was hidden in a laptop.
âWeâre concerned about ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs,â said a senior administration official. âJust evaluating all the intelligence, we believe the threat is still prominent against airlines and airports. For that reason, we have made a determination that these measures were necessary.â
Andrew Thomas, an associate professor at the University of Akron and editor in chief of the Journal of Transportation Security, said Al Qaeda continues to target aviation, despite the attention focused on the Islamic State. Packing explosives into electronics is nothing new, after the bomb hidden in a cassette recorder in checked luggage destroyedÂ Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, he said.
âThe idea of using electronic devices as âTrojan horsesâ to deliver explosives onboard a flight is nothing new,â Thomas said. âA big question: would or could people travel without their mobile phone or other personal devices if given no other option?â