US #ElectronicsBan on flights: What travellers need to know

2017-03-21 11:47
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Cape Town - Travelling to the US has become a roller-coaster headache for most travellers - as the latest ban issued requires travellers on flights originating from 10 specific airports to the US to pack electronic devices,  bigger than a smartphone, into their checked-in baggage. 

While cellphones and medical devices are excluded from the ban, no laptops will be allowed in hand luggage - officially as of Wednesday 22 March.

On Monday 20 March, the US government stated it was temporarily barring passengers on certain flights originating in eight countries and 10 airports from bringing laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics in carry-on luggage starting on Tuesday.

AFP reports the reason for the device ban was not immediately clear. US security officials would not comment - See News24's coverage here

This follows the much-meligned US Travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, which was then suspended by federal judges for being unconstitutional, only for a watered down version to then be put into effect, excluding Irag but still said to discriminate against people on a religious basis.

The latest US Travel-related ban came to light via statements released by Royal Jordanian Airlines and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia, and is said to be indefinite and will come into effect just before Wednesday's meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington.

"A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering. It was unclear whether their travel plans were related to any increased worry about security threats." 

A US official told The Associated Press the ban will apply to nonstop flights to the US from 10 international airports and would effect nine airlines:

- Cairo in Egypt

- Amman in Jordan

- Kuwait City in Kuwait

- Casablanca in Morocco

- Doha in Qatar

- Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia

- Istanbul in Turkey

 - Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. 

'Driven by possible intelligence of possible attack' 

Royal Jordanian said cellphones and medical devices were excluded from the ban. Everything else, the airline said, would need to be packed in checked luggage. Royal Jordanian said the electronics ban affects its flights to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal. 

Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corp, said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. He added that there could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders - airport or airline employees - in some countries.

Emirate unaware of laptop ban 

On Tuesday the Middle East's biggest airline said it was not aware of any restrictions on electronics in aircraft cabins on US-bound flights.

Dubai-based Emirates says that it would "comply with any new operational or regulatory policies but it so far has "not received any notification of changes to cabin luggage restrictions on US flights."

The government-backed airline operates daily flights from Dubai International Airport to multiple American cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.

Dubai International is the world's busiest airport for international flights. Airport operator Dubai Airports refused to discuss the reported U.S. policy changes. It referred questions to the UAE's civil aviation authority, which did not immediately respond to questions.

'Theft from baggage would skyrocket'

Another aviation-security expert, professor Jeffrey Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver, said there were disadvantages to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage. Thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, he said, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire - an event easier to detect in the cabin than in the cargo hold.

Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag's contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.

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