Hardware

Homeland Security ban will limit large electronics on some US-bound international flights

Terrorism threats cited as the reason behind a ban that affects carry-on devices larger than a smartphone, other than those for a medical need. Here's everything business travelers need to know.

qatar-airlines-nordroden.jpg

Qatar Airways is one of those impacted by the new electronics ban for US-bound flights.

Image: iStock/Andrey Radchenko, Getty Images

Laptops, cameras, tablets and e-readers are among the electronic devices that will be banned beginning Friday morning in carry-on luggage on US-bound airline flights from some airports in the Middle East and North Africa.

Homeland Security said that airlines were notified on Tuesday at 8 am ET and they have 96 hours within which to comply. There is no end date for the ban.

The ban states that any device larger than a smartphone will need to be packed in checked luggage. Necessary medical devices will be allowed to remain in a passenger's possession after they are screened. The reason for the ban is to address gaps in foreign airport security, according to Homeland Security.

The smartphone size requirement is vague, but Homeland Security issued the following statement: "The approximate size of a commonly available smartphone is considered to be a guideline for passengers."

SEE: Citing terror threat, US confirms electronics ban on some US-bound flights (ZDNet)

Examples of electronic devices that will not be permitted in carry-on luggage include:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • E-readers
  • Cameras
  • Portable DVD players
  • Electronic game units larger than a smartphone
  • Travel printers/scanners

There is no impact on domestic flights in the US or flights originating in the US, even to the impacted countries and airports.

Homeland Security issued a statement about the reason for the ban, and said:

"The U.S. Government is concerned about terrorists' ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years, as evidenced by the 2015 airliner downing in Egypt, the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia, and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul. Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items. Based on this trend, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in consultation with relevant Departments and Agencies, has determined it is prudent to enhance security, to include airport security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States."

Passengers traveling to the US from 10 airports across eight countries are impacted as a result of the ban. Flights to the US from the following airlines are impacted:

  • Royal Jordanian
  • Egypt Air
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Qatar Airways
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways

The airports impacted are:

  • Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco
  • Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Cairo International Airport, Egypt
  • Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan
  • King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait
  • Hamad International, Doha, Qatar
  • Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Dubai International, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

There will be approximately 50 flights a day from the impacted airports, so thousands of passengers will be affected by the ban. These measures apply to all passengers on flights from certain locations, regardless of trusted traveler status.

Tech analysts are debating the details of the ban and how to work around it when they're on the impacted overseas flights.

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, said that by having the laptop required to be in baggage versus in the cabin means that it is about "whatever you can hide in a large laptop when you have it in front of you versus what can it can do automatically. So — I'm just making this up — if you have a large-laptop-sized blob of explosives, you can do a lot more with it in your hands than you can if you have to rig it up to automatically explode in the hold."

Schneier said that Homeland Security's claim that the ban isn't based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack, "makes no sense. It has to be based on some specific and credible threat."

Ramon Llamas, research manager of wearables and smartphones for the International Data Corporation, said he's unaware of how this matches any conventional threat model, and he's concerned about the simple inconvenience of it on his future flights.

"The thought of going on business travel internationally without my laptop or tablet would be a tremendous inconvenience, as many business workers anticipate being able to get some work done on long trips. Even if it is not something as building a spreadsheet or writing a report, the convenience of checking email and reading news is a huge help. Not to mention all of the consumer-oriented use cases (watching movies, playing video games), and suddenly business travelers are not the only one affected," Llamas said.

"This also raises the need to perhaps push more work to a smartphone. It's terribly inconvenient, making it hard to type longer messages and review content. But it's better than having nothing at all," Llamas said.

Llamas said to protect fragile devices in checked baggage, it could work as easily as putting an extra T-shirt around your laptop in your suitcase. "The risk of damage is real. Wrap your devices carefully in clothing, and keep them away from liquids/gels. Avoid keeping it in an outer pocket if possible."

If you are a business traveler and will be on one of the affected flights, it's important to carefully pack all fragile electronic devices that will be placed in checked luggage. Any business traveler that had planned to work on their laptop during the hours-long international flights from the impacted airports to the US will be out of luck. Plus there is a security concern with laptops out of someone's control for several hours, with lost luggage always a concern. Companies with employees who regularly fly overseas to the affected countries should consider creating a policy to handle these new issues.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. A new travel ban on electronics includes any device larger than a smartphone.
  2. The travel ban impacts approximately 50 flights a day from eight Middle Eastern and North African countries to the US.
  3. The ban begins at 8 am ET on Friday and includes all passengers, even those in trusted traveler programs.

See also

About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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