Update 2pm CT: Canada is also considering the ban. (Source: Global News)
Update 10:30am CT: The UK will soon be announcing a similar ban. (Source: BBC)
According to the New York Times, the TSA issued an emergency directive early this morning, which aims to reduce the possibility of a terrorist attack within the airplane cabin. It requires passengers who are departing from 8 countries in the Middle East and North Africa to stow all electronics in their checked luggage. The airlines will have 96 hours to implement the new ban and at this time the ban is indefinite.
It's important to note this does not impact any US airlines, and this ban only applies to flights flown from the Middle East or North Africa to the United States. Flights from the United States are not impacted.
What is banned?
Any electronic device larger than a smartphone, which includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, drones, etc. These items will be required to be included in your checked luggage.
Ban covers the following airlines:
- Qatar Airways
- Etihad Airways
- Kuwait Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- Royal Jordanian
- Royal Air Maroc
- Saudi Arabian Airlines
From the following countries:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
This is a big deal because the ban impacts many of the best airlines in the world including Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways. This will also likely lead to higher theft rates from checked luggage. I will be traveling from Doha, Qatar to New York City later in April, and if this ban is still in effect, I will be forced to check my bag with all my valuables inside. This is worrisome as I do not want my items stolen, and I also need to get work done while flying 13+ hours.
There are other issues such as if you have spare lithium batteries with a drone. You are not legally allowed to check those items, but now you aren’t allowed to carry them on either. I have no idea how this will play out. This could ultimately result in a spare lithium battery ban as well. Further, what happens if a lithium battery starts on fire in the cargo hold? That is the whole reason they are required to be carried on in the first place!
Another issue is if, for example you are flying from Singapore to the United States and connecting in Qatar? How will you check those electronic items if you checked your bag from Singapore all the way through to the United States, but did not stow your electronics? Will they pull your checked bag so you can stow those items?
The last issue is why are the US airlines not impacted by this new ban? Oh yeah, that's because they conveniently don't fly the banned routes. There has been growing animosity between the Middle East 3 or the ME3 (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways), and US carriers. There is no question that the ME3 provide a higher level of service than US carriers, and this fierce competition has drawn the ire of American, Delta, and United. The unions of the largest US airlines have also been vocal opponents of the ME3, since they feel they are unfairly subsidized by their governments (even though US carriers receive subsidies). Is there another factor at play?
From the limited information we have at this time, it seems like this ban is going to be incredibly complicated to implement. One would hope the new ban is based off of a credible threat that is targeting these specific routes, and that this isn't a game being played by the US government to wreak havoc on travelers flying foreign airlines. Only time will tell, but the next few weeks are going to be interesting to see how efficiently this ban is implemented, and what impact it has on the thousands of travelers flying through several of the best airports in the world.