Partial Ban on Airline Carry On Electronics – What is the Impact?

The U.S. and Britain announced new restrictions on carry on electronics this week.  While this has been considered many times before, it is now being implemented, but only from a limited number of airports and a limited number of airlines.  The U.S. and British lists are different – of course.  I will only talk about what the U.S. is doing.

The ban covers laptops, tablets, game consoles and anything bigger than a phone.  Even portable disk drives.  Other electronics such as very expensive photographic equipment is banned as well.

First the ONLY airports affected are the following.  For now.

  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Dubai, UAE
  • Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Amman, Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

And only on flights to the U.S.  Since no U.S. flagged airlines currently fly from those airports to the U.S., no U.S. airlines are affected.  The airlines included are:

  • Egyptair
  • Emirates Airline
  • Etihad Airways
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines and
  • Turkish Airlines

The airlines have 96 hours to implement the ban or they risk losing their landing rights in the U.S., so all will comply.

So what is the impact to travelers?

First, the current ban is for a REALLY small group of flights – maybe 50 a day.  For now, assuming the U.S. doesn’t expand the ban to other airports and airlines.

For some companies, they will choose not to travel to those countries and lose business opportunities as the collateral risk is too high.

Next, you will be able to take you electronics onboard going TO those airports, just not coming home.

Coming home, you can check the laptop or tablet in your luggage, so it will still be on the plane with you.  If it is a bomb, it could still blow up, but it would require a more sophisticated detonator , such as what may have blown up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Regarding getting the computer stolen, there are tens of thousands of reports a year of stuff getting stolen from luggage and likely many more that are not reported, but that is a very small percentage of all of the luggage checked during a year.

Some airlines may pay, but many will not.  There are exclusions in some airlines terms of carriage for paying for valuable stuff.  Even if they do pay, the limit of liability is less than $2,000, so if the laptop is a business laptop, the value may exceed the available coverage.

Even if the laptop isn’t stolen, the bag may get dropped  and the laptop or tablet could get broken.  Proving damage is likely hard.

Even if the airline does eventually pay, it may be months before you see any money.

For many airlines, there are rules about filing a claim  – like 48 hours or 7 days.  Outside that window, the odds of you getting paid go down dramatically.

Most airlines will require a police report.  Skeptics might say that they want to make you jump through enough hoops that you eat the loss yourself.

So what can you do?  Here are a few suggestions.

  • The best choice is to avoid travelling with electronics if your travel includes their airports.
  • Consider taking an indirect return flight. While adding an extra stopover will increase your travel time, it MAY allow you to carry on your stuff.  Instead of a direct flight from Cairo to New York, maybe go from Cairo to Paris and Paris to New York.  Done right you are likely to avoid the ban at the cost of extra time.
  • The next best choice is to buy burner electronics – ones that are inexpensive AND DO NOT HAVE ANY DATA ON THEM.  Ones that you don’t care about if they are broken or stolen. Many companies do this as a matter of practice.
  • Assume that a laptop out of your site can be cloned in a matter of a few minutes with all the data on it compromised.  This is not NSA level stuff, many high school kids can do it.
  • Only take data that you need and make sure the data is fully encrypted using robust encryption.
  • If possible, store the data securely in the cloud, download it when you get to your destination, upload it before you return and wipe the disk before you pack it for the return flight.
  • Pad the laptop or other electronics in the suitcase as best you can.
  • Write down serial numbers on anything that you put in a suitcase.  Do not put the serial numbers in the checked luggage.
  • Take pictures of the electronics if possible.

When you arrive, check everything immediately and if there is an issue, if possible, file a claim before you leave the airport.  Getting the airlines on the phone is, to be polite, a bit difficult.

Unfortunately, these suggestions don’t help business travelers that have to take other, non computer electronics with them.   For them, shipping via Fedex or similar carriers may an alternative, albeit expensive, option.

The good news is that it won’t affect a huge number of travelers.  For now.  Needless to say, the countries and airlines involved are worried that they are going to lose business.  The U.S. has decided against the ban in the past because it would affect business travelers – which is the most profitable segment of the travelling public.  Hopefully that issue will stop them from expanding the ban, but stay tuned.

Information for this post came from CNN and CNN.

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