A ban on electronic devices that are larger than a cell phone is currently in place for flights heading towards the United States that originate in 10 specific airports in Africa and the Middle East. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is considering expanding that ban to cover all international flights, which would affect nearly 560,000 passengers a day.
As reported by CNN, around 4,300 international flights originate from or land in the US on a daily basis. Over the course of a year, more than 200 million passengers travel internationally to and from the US by air.
The current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) electronics ban prevents passengers from bringing larger electronic devices, such as tablets and laptops, into the cabins of flights leaving certain airports with a destination in the US. The expanded ban would place that restriction on all international flights regardless of whether they were leaving or entering the US.
Originally, the smaller ban was put in place as a security precaution, ensuring passengers on nonstop flights from airports with less rigorous screening methods were not potentially bringing an explosive disguised as a common electronic device on board. The expanded ban is associated with the same concerns regarding potential explosives on flights but applies it more broadly.
Speaking about the reason behind the possible expansion, Kelly stated terrorist organizations are “obsessed” with “knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly a US carrier if it’s full of mostly US folks.”
This point was supported by intelligence, as previously reported by CNN, which indicated Al Qaeda was exploring methods for building bombs that required little, if any, metal, helping them get clear of traditional security measures.
The smaller ban has already affected travel to the US, with some airlines cutting the number of flights to the country due to falling demand. Expanding the restrictions to include all international flights, including those to and from Europe, Australia, and Canada, would have a significant impact on US tourism, as some international travelers would choose alternative destinations over having to check a laptop.
Alexandre de Juniac, the CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in a statement, “The responses of Canada, the EU, and Australia to the same intelligence demonstrate that a ban on large electronic devices is not the only way forward,” and has urged the Trump administration to explore alternatives.
The US Travel Association has also warned officials that it is necessary to be clear regarding the need for such restrictions. Jonathan Grella, the vice president of the US Travel Association, said, “If there is a legitimate terror threat, the flying public need to take it seriously and adjust to the new protocols the best they can,” continuing, “It is critical that the US government clearly communicate the details of this new policy and the reasons why it is needed,” while also advocating for continuous reassessment “to ensure it remains relevant and effective.”
At this time, an expanded ban is only being considered and is not guaranteed to be implemented.