Airline Cabin Laptop Ban: More Security Theater?

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends most of her time in Asia and is currently researching a book about textile artisans. She also writes regularly about legal, political economy, and regulatory topics for various consulting clients and publications, as well as scribbles occasional travel pieces for The National.

A new ban on carrying laptops and other common electronic devices in hand luggage on direct flights from Middle Eastern airports to the US or the UK comes into effect tomorrow, following surprise announcements earlier this week.

The US on Tuesday announced the ban on carrying anything larger than a smartphone– including cameras, laptops, tablets, and other communication devices– on nonstop flights from ten middle eastern airports– Cairo (Egypt); Amman (Jordan); Kuwait City (Kuwait); Casablanca (Morocco); Doha (Qatar); Riyadh and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia); Istanbul (Turkey); and Abu Dhabi and Dubai (the United Arab Emirates).

Emirates,  Qatar Airways, and Etihad Airways are the airlines most affected by the US ban, which also applies to EgyptAir, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines,  and Turkish Airlines. No US airlines will be hurt, as none fly direct routes from any of the named ten airports to the US.

The UK followed on the same day with a similar but not identical ban, on “[p]hones, laptops and tablets larger than 16.0cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm in the cabin.” The UK ban targets six countries, four of which are also on the US list– Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey– as well as Lebanon and Tunisia. Fourteen domestic and foreign airlines are affected by the UK ban, including British Airways, but not the biggest three Gulf-based carriers (Etihad Airways, Emirates, and Qatar Airways).

Security Experts Scratch Their Heads

This latest example of Airport Security Theater has left security experts scratching their heads.

Why ban these devices in hand luggage, but allow them to be carried in the hold? This seems to this non-expert to be particularly ridiculous. I’ve seen various torturous explanations, concerning the relative proximity of hand compared to checked baggage to vulnerable areas of the aircraft. I’ve found none convincing.

Moreover, won’t forcing checking of more items create other possible dangers and uncertainties? Many of these devices contain lithium batteries.  Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Pack Safe regulation requires:

Spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries must be carried in carry-on baggage only. When a carry-on bag is checked at the gate or at planeside, all spare lithium batteries must be removed from the bag and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin. The battery terminals must be protected from short circuit.

This covers spare lithium metal and spare rechargeable lithium ion batteries for personal electronics such as cameras, cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, watches, calculators, etc. This also includes external battery chargers (portable rechargers) containing a lithium ion battery. For lithium batteries that are installed in a device (laptop, cell phone, camera, etc.), see the entry for “portable electronic devices, containing batteries” in this chart.

It’s not clear what one’s supposed to do with those lithium batteries included in those portable electronic devices one’s now required to check, as the link noted above is at the time of posting broken. Are these allowed in checked baggage, or not? And if not, can anyone tell me how to remove the battery from my MacBook?

Why ban these devices in hand luggage on flights from the designated airports (in the case of the US ban) or countries (in the case of the UK ban), and allow them in hand luggage that originates elsewhere?  If these devices do indeed pose a major threat, won’t those who seek to exploit a security loophole and sabotage an aircraft just shift their plans and board flights for which no restrictions apply?

In passing, I’ll mention briefly another point– no doubt a feature, not a bug: requiring passengers to check in their laptops would now allow for their examination by other parties– including the security services.  But does anyone actually think that anyone plotting to commit a terrorist act– or indeed any other serious crime– would be stupid enough to surrender a device and allow for this possibility?

Disguised Protectionism?

I could continue on in a similar vein, but will stop here. So, since the security rationales for the ban seem rather tenuous at best, what gives? Moon of Alabama was one of the first to highlight the obvious protectionist implications of the ban in this post, Airlines Want Protectionism – U.S. Bans Laptops, Tablets On Competition’s Flights, suggesting that it was put in place at the behest of US airlines. (quoting an earlier post):

The big three U.S. airlines maintain that Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways — airlines backed by governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — are unfairly subsidized and that their expansion into the U.S. market represents unfair competition that should be blocked by regulators.

“The Gulf carriers have received over $50 billion in documented subsidies from their government owners since 2004,” the chief executives of the big three wrote in a recent letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Mr. Secretary,” the letter continues, “we are confident that the Trump Administration shares our view on the importance of enforcing our Open Skies agreements, ensuring that U.S. airlines have a fair and equal opportunity to compete in the international market, and protecting American jobs.”

The U.S. move is certainly not about security. What now hinders anyone to fly from Dubai to Paris and on to New York with a laptop and tablet in her carry on luggage? Why would that be more secure than a direct flight with Emirates Airline? No. This is all about unwanted competition and an effort of the highly subsidized U.S. airlines to sell higher priced tickets with less service.

This point is so obvious, that even The Washington Post picked up on it, in Trump won’t allow you to use iPads or laptops on certain airlines. Here’s why.:

It may not be about security. Three of the airlines that have been targeted for these measures — Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — have long been accused by their U.S. competitors of receiving massive effective subsidies from their governments. These airlines have been quietly worried for months that President Trump was going to retaliate. This may be the retaliation.

These three airlines, as well as the other airlines targeted in the order, are likely to lose a major amount of business from their most lucrative customers — people who travel in business class and first class. Business travelers are disproportionately likely to want to work on the plane — the reason they are prepared to pay business-class or first-class fares is because it allows them to work in comfort. These travelers are unlikely to appreciate having to do all their work on smartphones, or not being able to work at all. The likely result is that many of them will stop flying on Gulf airlines, and start traveling on U.S. airlines instead.

The problem with this argument is that it’s not only the US that has imposed the ban, but the UK as well.  And the UK’s ban includes not just foreign but also domestic carriers, including British Airways. It would be a particularly misguided form of protectionism that would pull in the flagship national carrier.

Safeguarding Checked Baggage: Hahaha

I point out that these bans were imposed apparently without prior consultation with the airlines involved, leaving them scrambling to adjust. Needless to say, neither the US nor UK mandated   any accompanying effort from airlines or affected airports to safeguard checked-in baggage from theft or other damage. Currently, airlines prominent warn passengers not to check valuable, fragile, or other essential items in the hold, and the amounts they pay in compensation in the event of mishap are laughable. Standard  travel insurance exempts valuables placed checked baggage for loss, theft or damage, according to this Daily Telegraph piece, Laptop ban means your gadgets are uninsured and could be confiscated.

Which leads me to an issue that’s long bothered me. When I travel internationally, I carry my laptop (a MacBook with a 15-inch screen), a Nikon camera (with two lenses), and a much loved, beautifully-designed, 25-year old pair of Zeiss 7x 42 binoculars for birdwatching. Add noise-cancelling headphones, a light shawl to insulate me from a too-cold cabin, an eyeshade, a book (or two), and whatever medicines I might need (usually none), and I’m often way over the maximum carry-on weight for international flights. Not surprisingly, since I fly coach, I often get flagged at check-in, and end up having to show the agent the contents of my hand baggage. I then ask–  politely, ever so politely– what, exactly, does the agent suggest I should check through?  Nearly all of the time, I get waved through– save for one unfortunate incident in the UK– was it Heathrow or Gatwick?– where I was forced to wear my camera and binoculars, dangling from straps around my neck, before the agent would give me my boarding pass.  (As soon as I had cleared security and reached the gate, I put the items back into my carry-on bag.)

I would gladly check through at least some of these items, if airlines could ensure they wouldn’t either be pilfered or smashed in transit, or lost completely. Now I understand that aircraft baggage handling is a legacy system and can’t be changed without incurring significant costs and imposing considerable hassle.  But in the days where I imagine most of the backstage of airports is under CCTV surveillance– is it too much to expect that one would be able to check a bag through to a destination and have all the items therein arrive intact?  (Perhaps this ban will force a long overdue upgrade of checked baggage handling systems?  Just kidding.)

Airline Response: Jokes and Japes

Some affected airlines have quickly responded with some plans to allow passengers to use laptops and other on long-haul flights on the portions that fly into the affected airports. In Laptop ban: How airlines will soften the impact, The Australian reports:

But airlines are already introducing measures that will soften the impact of the ban and make it more possible for passengers to access their files and work productively on the way to the US and UK.

Overnight Emirates announced that passengers travelling to the US via Dubai can use their laptops and tablet devices on the first part of their journeys, and also during transit in Dubai.

“They will then need to declare and hand over their laptops, tablets, and other banned electronic devices to security staff at the gate just before boarding their US-bound flight,” the airline told The Australian.

Other airlines  have responded with attempted humor, as the Los Angeles Times reports in,  In an ad featuring Jennifer Aniston, Emirates Airlines asks: ‘Who needs tablets and laptops anyway?’ Royal Jordanian instead opted for ads on social media listing 12 things to do on a 12-hr flight with no laptop or tablet, including, “Say hello to the person next to you,” “Meditate,” “Spend an hour deciding what to watch,” and “Appreciate the miracle of flight,” as Scroll India notes in US electronics ban: Emirates plans laptop service, Royal Jordanian encourages fliers to read book.

For the record: I didn’t find these suggestions very funny either.

Impact on US Tourism? Not Funny Either

Tourism in the United States is already slumping due to concerns over the Trump administration, as the Los Angeles Times has reported in The Trump slump? Tourists say they’re scared to visit the United States. Although no one really knows for sure how the latest ban will hit tourism and business travel, they surely cannot help.

The bans are certainly of major concern to Asian travellers– especially those with few options for travelling by air to the US without passing through Gulf airports. Travellers from Kolkata, for example, to cities either on the east coast or in the mid-west of the United States, will be badly hit– with 90% of them currently travelling through Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai. So far, Indian press coverage suggests that travellers are prepared to cope– although I should note, the US protectionism rationale has been given prominent play.

Yet patience for US policy peculiarities may erode, if, for example, they find their electronic devices confiscated, as The Times of India reported in Airlines get busy on gadget dikta.  Currently, a passenger boarding a flight from an Indian city to an affected airport would be allowed to board with a banned item in hand baggage, since the ban applies only to direct flights to the US. But the passenger would not be allowed to take the item as hand baggage on the onward connecting flight. What happens next? “If there is enough time, the passenger will be asked to submit the bag as check-in baggage and in case there is no such time or option, the items will be confiscated,” according to an airline official.

This issue is just another one that might exacerbate concerns and confusion about just how welcoming the US is to visitors (issues I touched on in this earlier post).

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  1. Expat

    More bullshit. It’s Trump lashing out at the Arab countries because the courts knocked down his Muslim ban. This is about as useful as checking shoes or banning liquids. Anyone who can whip up a binary liquid explosive that can be concocted aboard a plane with a few plastic bottles will not be arrested; he will be offered millions by the US government to go work for DARPA.

    No one is addressing the real issue: why these people are targeting us or performing acts of “terrorism”. Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, repeated GW Bush’s sad explanation that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. Not true. They hate us for the hellfire missiles blowing up their weddings, the extensive network of renditions and torture, the invasions and occupations of sovereign Muslim countries, and the support for some of worst dictatorships in the world.

    Soon we will be forced to fly nude with no luggage allowed. I am an American living abroad and was happy to have escaped most of America’s madness. Now it affects me since I fly to the Middle East quite often, sometimes through London.

    Please Trump, build a wall, but build it all around America, build it high and have the machine guns pointing in.

  2. RUKidding

    This ban makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, except as a sop to US Airlines, who don’t have the ban on them. It also tosses red meat at Trump’s base, most of whom will never fly anywhere outside of the USA, much less to somewhere in the ME or countries served by these airlines.

    There’s been rumors/gossip that Trump did it in part bc of the courts countering his Muslim ban, but also bc US airlines saw their opening to beg Trump to toss them a bone. So if you’re flying to/from the ME or thereabouts, you can fly on US airlines and take your devices in your hand luggage.

    Security theater? You betcha, plus likely a big chunka change will be wending it’s way to one or more of Trump family industries off-shore accounts. Bank on it.

    It sucks for me personnally as I fly on some of these airlines some of the time, and typically they’re miles better in terms of services and amenities than US airlines.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I agree with you regarding services and amenities. I fly some of the targeted airlines occasionally, and one– Turkish Airlines– often: for the food, the service, the cheap fares, the free Istanbul stopovers, and IIRC the world’s largest route network. It’s also easy to redeem air miles.

      What I don’t get is why the UK also announced a ban. Pure protectionism can’t be the reason there, as UK domestic carriers are included.

    2. JerryDenim

      “I fly on some of these airlines some of the time, and typically they’re miles better in terms of services and amenities than US airlines.”

      No kidding? Imagine that, Gulf airlines whose oil rich governments are happy to buy them brand new fleets of wide body jets and then subsidize the unprofitable, half-full routes are able to provide a better product? You don’t say?

      I imagine Delta airlines and their US Legacy brethren could deliver a much nicer experience if the US government was willing to buy their airplanes and their fuel. Billions of dollars every year in subsidies and no unions coupled with zero worker protections can do wonders for an airline. Better food, more goodies, more cabin space, nicer aircraft interiors and younger, more attractive cabin crew are a few I can think of right off the top of my head.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        You make a good point about subsidies to the big three Gulf carriers.

        Yet if this is indeed the target, imposing a misguided laptop ban isn’t an optimal response– especially since the burden of it falls on customers without many alternatives.

        Also subsidies to the big three Gulf carriers aren’t relevant to the UK ban– since that ban doesn’t target the countries where these carriers have their hubs (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha). So if you fly from Asia to London, on Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar– you can still bring your laptop into the cabin.

        I’m far from an expert on airline subsidies, so I don’t want to discuss something in depth that I don’t know very much about. I should mention that while I have flown on Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar over the last decade (1 round trip each IIRC), I usually fly Turkish– for the reasons I mentioned above. Their extensive route network’s probably the biggest draw for me, followed by their policy of allowing free indefinite stopovers in Istanbul– a city I adore. I often try to arrange things so I break my journey there for a couple of days.

        Their planes are nearly always pretty full, in my experience. Reason: the bulk of their fleet is narrowbody aircraft. Their strategy is to service more markets with smaller aircraft. You might find it interesting that the then-CEO of Turkish Airlines in 2015 criticized the subsidies the Gulf-based airlines received. And if you click through to the link, notice that the article discusses efforts that Turkish was then making to band together with other European carriers to counter unfair competition from subsidized Gulf carriers (I confess I only read the first part of the link as I didn’t want to pay up for a subscription to read the entire article– even though it looked interesting). Turkish Airlines has a big presence in Europe but not much so in the US– I don’t even know whether they fly anywhere other than NYC.

        I don’t want to ignore your concern about the subsidy issue but I will say again the main point of this post is to discuss the misguided laptop ban. To discuss subsidies in greater detail is not something I know much about and to pretend otherwise would be doing readers a disservice.

        1. JerryDenim

          As your post astutely surmised, subsidies are the beginning, middle and end of this laptop story. The big three Gulf Airlines have been using government subsidies to expand well beyond any rational market demand for air travel and they have been aggressively “seat dumping” in the US market for years. The legacy airlines have been begging the government to respond for years and finally the Trump administration heeded the call. I agree the laptop ban is an oblique and “sub-optimal” response to unfair subsidies and seat dumping that will further undermine the authority and credibility of the US government, but I do think it will be very effective at hitting the intended targets; the big three gulf airlines. Passengers have been chosing the gulf airlines since the planes are big and new, the service is nice and the tickets are super cheap, below market rates cheap, but that cheap ticket and flying thousands of miles out of your way to connect in Doha or Dubai doesn’t look so great anymore if you have to check your MacBook and your D750 on your 15 hour Dubai to LAX leg. The laptop ban doesn’t stop the Gulf Airlines from selling below market rate tickets or seat dumping in the US but it does add value to the more expensive US or European legacy ticket which allows you to bring your cherished electronics on board. Passengers who really want the cheap ticket or need the Gulf carrier route can still get their oil-money subsidized ticket on a non-union airline owned by a human-rights-abusing, draconian, dark ages monarchy, but they will have to check their MacBook. I suggest a simple non-TSA compliant brass key lock. I’ve done it many many times, and only once was I ever called and asked to open my bag. They can cut your lock or your bag but then they lose plausible denial-ability when it comes to pilferage.

          The method is all wrong but I am glad someone is finally doing something to attempt to protect US jobs from unfair foreign competition. The Gulf Carriers are hardly victims. Some kind of retribution for their eye-popping subsidies and seat dumping is long overdue.

          1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

            No argument with you on the subsidies to Gulf airlines.

            Where I disagree is with you is on this claim “subsidies are the beginning, middle and end of this laptop story” with respect to the UK ban. As I said in my post, the UK ban does not cover flights from Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai. Now that the ban is in place, passengers on Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates carry devices in their hand baggage. Passengers on flights from six countries, four of which are also on the US list– Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey– as well as Lebanon and Tunisia– cannot. The UK ban pulls in both foreign and domestic carriers– including British Airlines– but leaves the Gulf airlines untouched.

            So, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this point.

            1. JerryDenim

              The dubious US laptop policy makes perfect sense to me in light of what I know about enemies of the US airlines and Pentagon/State department crowd. I can’t really make heads or tails of the U.K. policy, but then again I really know nothing of the U.K. aviation politics or their national politics. I know a little about both here in the states. If I hear anything enlightening from any of my aviation friends who work in the UK or Mideast I will report back here if I see the topic come up again.

        2. JerryDenim

          Fantastic Bloomberg piece on Emirates from January. Makes the case against Emirates quite nicely.

          Any readers who are tempted to feel sorry for the treatment Emirates has received from the Trump administration may want to read Bloomberg’s very straightforward depiction of how they treat their employees. Readers who are wondering why the United States rolled out a dubious security policy that also affects other airlines beside the ME3 (Emirates, Qatar, Ethihad) may find clues in the story of how Emirates attempted to muscle the sovereign nation of Canada in retaliation for Canada’s refusal to grant Emirates a few additional landing slots at Toronto. Challenging the state-owned, coddled ME3 airlines head-on can be fraught with repercussions.

          Like I said earlier, the Gulf Carriers are the bullies, not the victims here.

          1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

            Thanks for the Bloomberg link.

            I see other victims here: the passengers who are forced to participate in more security theater– often when they have little choice but to use the targeted carriers– which, importantly, are not just the Gulf airlines but in fact include their competitors. And, as I wrote above, the UK ban actually advantages Gulf carriers, since it doesn’t apply to the airports they use, but does target the hubs of their competitors.

  3. Disturbed Voter

    We should have banned all commercial passenger flights since 9/11. If we want to actually be safe. Better than having dysfunctional no-fly lists and full body cavity searches.

  4. Joanna Bujes

    And then there’s this: smart phones ARE computers. What can you do with a laptop that you can’t do with a smart phone?

  5. David

    What this means in practice is the end of traveling with carry-on only luggage. If you travel even with an iPad you will need to put it in a bag to check in. This will probably double the queues at airline check-in counters, not to mention causing absolute chaos when you arrive late for a connection in the middle of the night at an airport where you didn’t realize that the airline you were traveling on is a codeshare with one of the affected airlines …. Indeed, chaos is the mildest term I can think of.

  6. justanotherprogressive

    You reflect my sentiments exactly. Putting laptops in the airline’s hold just doesn’t make any sense when it comes to security. Moon of Alabama had a good post where he thought it was to punish those airlines but then that doesn’t make sense with what the UK is doing….
    I do remember that as a Fed I was cautioned by my security people never to put my laptop in my baggage, not necessarily because it could be stolen, but because it was out of my sight and could be “accessed”. Perhaps that is the reason?

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Yes, I agree the Moon of Alabama post is good one– and in fact, quoted from it above.

  7. Irrational

    US restriction seems to be for devices larger than 6.3 x 3.7 inches, which rules out even some of the smallest tablets.
    Personally more potentially affected by the mysterious UK ban, the US one just adds to my general disinclination to visit the country except when necessary for family reasons.

  8. David Carl Grimes

    Lots of travelers from Asia pass through Dubai, Doha, enroute to the USA. Millions will be affected.

    1. Which is worse -bankers or terrorists

      Dubai now has 77 million departures per year alone. Quite a few millions actually.

      Post ACHA failure, expect more of this protectionist/nativism crap from the Trump Administration, now that the whole country will have figured out that they the Republican Party is not actually unified enough to pass any legislation, or more likely, a budget, now that the House Freedom Caucus is the de jure and unelected President of the US.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        That’s all we need– more virtue-signalling policy gestures by DT to his base, as he finally begins to grasp that there are real limits to his authority as President, no matter how many tweets he sends out. Perhaps we should send him a copy of Richard Neustadt’s book on the limits of presidential power?

  9. Stephen Gardner

    Yet another outrage from our Homeland Security geniuses. It has really struck me of late how the US and Russia have traded places. Russia used to be the land of oppression and weird security rules (Read Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle”.) Now it is the US. The country of my birth has been crazy with fear of the people that we murder daily with drone flights and Seal Teams. When does it end? When does the rest of the world react in some way that will make it clear to our rulers that they can’t keep getting weirder and weirder without consequences?

  10. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

    I’m not altogether surprised to see that the US is doing this, but what continues to baffle me is why the UK has done so as well. Germany, Spain, and Switzerland have declined to adopt similar restrictions, and the EU is slated to discuss measures next week.

  11. robnume

    Well, Jerri-Lynn, I’m sure we’ve all noticed that from the time Tony Blair was made PM of the UK that the UK became the de-facto “handmaiden” of the U.S. There doesn’t seem to be any real difference, except cosmetically, between the foreign or public policies enacted by the MP’s across the pond and the ones which are enacted by our own Feral CONgresscritters.
    I’m beginning to forget: Why did we have that revolution against the Brits?
    Maybe time for the Brits to start one against us?

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I’m well aware of the poodle problem, but I still don’t get it. (In fact, part of the reason I wrote this post was to see what explanations would occur to members of the commentariat, who are often incisive and come up with great ideas I admit I hadn’t thought of. What am I missing here?)

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, J-LS.

        It is not the first time and won’t be the last time that UK interests are sacrificed, so that the elements in the UK gov’t can suck up to Uncle Sam.

        As has been written above, the UK needs independence from the US.

  12. robnume

    You know, for a guy who is actually in the “hospitality” industry, Trump seems oddly inhospitable when it comes to tourism to the U.S. Couldn’t he be making a lot more money being a bit more accommodating?

  13. purplepencils

    Surely this won’t hit the transit business (by that I mean, flying through the Middle East, but not exiting the airport) too much, as the ban only affects direct flights? I’m slightly confused.

    The UK following suit is the true mystery. I suppose it can be explained by May wanting to lick Trump’s boots, but even then — would she really sacrifice BA for Trump?

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      No it certainly would. Let me clarify what may be confusing if you’re not familiar with these airlines.

      Exiting the airport has nothing to do with it. Here’s how it works– the affected carriers maintain hub and spoke systems, and Mid Eastern airports are their hubs. “Direct flight” refers to the leg from the hub airport to the US (or UK) airport, and for which the devices are banned in cabin baggage. Virtually all routes these carriers maintain pass through their hubs. Flying from any Asian city to a European city, or an Asian city to a North American city (or vice versa), means changing at the hub.

      So, say you want to fly from Mumbai to New York. If you fly Emirates, you board in Mumbai, change in Dubai. If you fly Turkish, you board in Mumbai, change in Istanbul. For that first leg, there are no restrictions– you can keep your laptop from Mumbai to Dubai, or Mumbai to Istanbul. But your devices are banned in cabin baggage for the Dubai to NYC leg, or the Istanbul to NYC leg.

      And, as I discuss in the last part of the post, if you failed to check your laptop for the first leg of your journey– Mumbai to Dubai, say–and you are delayed, you will not be allowed to board the Dubai to NYC leg with your device in hand baggage. If there’s no time to check the device when you arrive in Dubai, you risk having the device confiscated.

      Great system, no?

      1. purplepencils

        Thanks Jerri-Lynn! So basically, even if you’re merely transiting in, say, Abu Dhabi, for the purposes of these new rules, the Abu Dhabi-JFK leg (for example) would constitute a direct flight.

        Personally, I find the whole thing distasteful on principle. I don’t enjoy flying through the Middle East and will continue to stick with East/Southeast Asian airlines for my long haul flights, but any reduction in options is unwelcome.

        But yes, the first thing I thought of when this nonsense was announced was: how will this change the compensation system? If airlines do not compensate fully for something that is clearly beyond the control of the passenger, they are, in essence telling passengers not to bother bringing anything larger than a smartphone with them. I wonder if the particularly rich airlines (Etihad, Emirates) will just decide to compensate passengers for any losses anyway. But… how to prevent fraud in this case?

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          Exactly– that Abu-Dhabi-JFK leg indeed constitutes a “direct flight”.

          Theft of my device is a huge concern, but I’m equally worried about who would get to look at (and play with or manipulate my data) if I have to check my laptop– even if it is returned to me “intact” at the arrival end. At the moment, one can workaround the restrictions by carefully planning one’s flights. I worry about the possibility that these rules might become universal.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      When a lobbyist at a well known trade association, I was involved in three episodes where UK regulators preferred to suck up to Goldman Sachs rather than protect UK interests and / or act evenhandedly.

      The US MIC has deep pockets. Doing the right thing does not pay the bills or ensure a comfortable retirement.

  14. Plebicus

    It’s revenge. For the immigration ban lawsuits. Tech companies pushed heavily for Washington and Hawaii states to take the cases.

    This is revenge. The tech employees to-ing and fro-ing while the bans are suspended? Now their tech is subject to petty confiscation and other impedances.

    A bigger conflict is brewing here.

    1. reslez

      What also comes to mind are recent reports that US customs officials have been asking software engineers to solve programming questions during entrance interviews. Why would you do that unless you suspect people are lying about their profession? Maybe you’re looking for people who start sweating bullets when asked to demonstrate computer science skills.

      To me, the combination of the laptop ban plus weird IT questions points to Occam’s razor. There was an intercept, possibly on very flimsy evidence but who knows, and the government is doing its job in its usual inept way. The fact that US airlines will possibly benefit made it that much easier to implement.

    2. JerryDenim

      It’s revenge all right, but just as Jerri-Lynn said, it was on behalf of the US legacy carriers who have been losing market share to the subsidized Gulf carriers. The airlines begged the Obama administration to take action against the Gulf carriers for years but the big O didn’t care about American jobs or the airline industry, which was cash-strapped, weak and battered for the years he was in office. Trump apparently cares enough about US airlines and US jobs to throw a weasel punch, then claim it’s about security.

  15. JerryDenim

    I totally agree that security theater is the wrong way to go after the unfairly subsidized gulf carriers that have been aggressively seat dumping in the United States. But, pretending these Gulf carriers and the oil rich, draconian, undemocratic monarchies that support them are somehow victims is totally ridiculous.

    Naked Capitalism routinely rails against the unfair, job killing, market distorting practices of corporations like Uber and Amazon. I’m far from perfect when it comes to walking the walk that backs my talk, and maybe I’m being too harsh, but it strikes me as extremely hypocritical for Jerri-Lynn to complain here of all places about the inconvenience of having to check her MacBook Pro the next time she wants to fly from JFK to Ahmedabad on a fiercely non-union airline that’s heavily subsidized by a oil-rich, human-rights-abusing monarchy. I mean Emirates, Qatar, and Ethihad seem to stand for everything I thought Naked Capitalism was against? If no one here cares about the subsidies and the jobs what about the environment damage caused by flying people on half empty jumbo jets thousands of miles out of their way to connect in massive, air-conditioned nowhereville desert cities? Massive resource misallocation. DBX has the world’s largest passenger terminal now and is the 3rd busiest airport in the world despite being a 2nd rate city with a tiny population.

    Again, I don’t agree with the method, but some form of US retribution against the subsidized Gulf airlines is long overdue. It makes absolutely no sense to allow subsidized foreign carriers with odious business practices to continue to steal US jobs and market share. The Trump administration should take action against Norwegian Airlines for their flag-of-convenience business practices next. I would prefer to see them do it in a direct, non-passive aggressive way instead of contrived lies about “security”. Abusing the power of the state in the name of security undermines the state’s authority and the public trust in Federal law enforcement.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Thanks for sharing your justifiable outrage over the Gulf carriers and the subsidies and strategies that have led to their rise. Since you’ve called me a hypocrite, I should correct you on a couple of facts– which of course, I realize you couldn’t possibly know. I’ll share these details with you and other readers, because your hypocrisy charge is a serious one—and one which I indeed regard as too harsh.

      I think you read my admission above as a defense of and endorsement of the Gulf airlines: “I agree with you regarding services and amenities. I fly some of the targeted airlines occasionally, and one– Turkish Airlines– often: for the food, the service, the cheap fares, the free Istanbul stopovers, and IIRC the world’s largest route network. It’s also easy to redeem air miles.”

      It’s anything but. I think if you look at that statement closely, the benefits I listed—“for the food, the service, the cheap fares, the free Istanbul stopovers, and IIRC the world’s largest route network”— were intended to laud and actually only apply to Turkish Airlines, which is the only airline to offer free Istanbul stopovers and has the largest route network. But rather than quibble over that point, since I can see how you might have read this as a wider endorsement, let me respond.

      I share your outrage over the strategies that have led the Gulf carriers to rise. And with respect to my personal air travel, I’m by no means a big patron of them– although I’ve flown one round trip each on Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar each over the last decade. I always choose other airlines if I have a choice– a big if, given the considerable amount of time I’ve spent in Asia over the last decade (including several visits to India, and especially Calcutta). Try a few representative Kayak searches, from these gateways to the US and Europe, and see the limited options that pop up. I think you’ll see that patronizing the Gulf carriers only three times over a decade indicates anything but a preference for them.

      I’d like to tell you it’s their subsidy policies, use of non-union labor, and environmental issues that have been my main reasons for eschewing these airlines. But I’m not by nature a virtue-signaller, and I’ll be honest and admit they’re not. Here’s my main reason for avoiding them: when I fly long-haul, I carefully arrange my schedule to allow stopovers to break my journey and manage my jet lag– an increasing burden as I’ve aged. I also write the occasional travel piece, and an added benefit of these stopovers is that I can undertake travel writing gigs about the cities I visit.

      Carriers that permit easy stopovers in places I want to visit get my business. The Gulf cities fail spectacularly in this regard. Not only are their shiny hub airports sterile barns, their host cities are themselves not enticing to me. So, even though I may be primarily motivated by the “wrong” reasons, I do, in fact, avoid the Gulf airlines. Your above example of flying Ahmedabad to JFK on a Gulf carrier is in fact to me the idea of a nightmare journey. There’s no place en route I want to stopover, nor do I fancy a long layover in one of the Gulf airports.

      Although my practice is to avoid the Gulf airlines, I fly often on others targeted by the US and especially, the UK ban. I’ve flown EgyptAir four times during December and January. I’m planning another Egypt trip soon and won’t be able to then fly onward to NYC as I’d intended unless I check my valuables. This I’m unwilling to do. As it happens, I have recent direct experience with EgyptAir’s compensation policies. The airline trashed a brand new suitcase on a flight I made in January– ripped off two wheels, cracked the case– and has so far offered me $50 as compensation.

      By far my favorite long-haul airline is Turkish Airlines, which allows free Istanbul stopovers. Their service is friendly, and their cabin attendants are allowed to look like real people and are not forced to coif themselves in the creepy, Stepford wives-style the Gulf airlines promote. You get lovely fresh-squeezed orange juice with your breakfast, and they also offer a glass of wine or raki with same. Accepting a tipple is not necessarily the tell for alcoholism that it might seem to some, because when your body still thinks you’re in one time zone, the clock says otherwise, what the airline calls breakfast is actually dinner for you, and you have a long haul ahead and want to sleep, a glass of wine often aids same– and as the old saying goes, the sun is always sinking under the yardarm somewhere.

      (Istanbul is one of my favorites cities for a stopover, a temptation to which I’ve succumbed dozens of times. At the risk of being accused of self-promotion, I include this link to an article I’ve written about the city,,
      just so you’ll understand that I’m not blowing smoke about these travel gigs and Istanbul stopovers.)

      EgyptAir and Turkish Airlines will both suffer more from this ban, relative to their Gulf airline competitors, since both are not only subject to the US ban, but are targeted as well by the UK ban– which does not affect flights from the hubs of the Gulf carriers. As the articles I linked to above make clear, Turkish is actually working with European airlines to counter Gulf subsidies.

      So, your charge– of it being “extremely hypocritical for Jerri-Lynn to complain here of all places about the inconvenience of having to check her MacBook Pro the next time she wants to fly from JFK to Ahmedabad on a fiercely non-union airline that’s heavily subsidized by a oil-rich, human-rights-abusing monarchy”— is not only harsh, but refers to a complaint I have neither made nor would in fact in future might make. I not only avoid the Gulf airlines whenever it’s possible to do so but the affected airlines that I prefer to fly– and have used most recently– are actually harmed more by this ban than are their Gulf competitors.

      Please forgive me for running on a bit about my personal travel; I’ve done so because hypocrisy is a very direct and personal charge and I’ve felt I had to respond accordingly. But the impact of this ban goes way beyond me. Allow me to quote from the Daily Telegraph piece mentioned above on the UK ban (which, to repeat again, does not hit the Gulf carriers):

      “Of the airports included in the ban, the one used most by Britons is Istanbul, which received 1.79 million Britons last year. Turkey’s Antalya, Dalaman and Bodrum airports also see tens of thousands of Britons pass through them each year however, with a total of 4,616,564 British travellers flying to and from Turkey in 2016.

      Egypt welcomed 614,637 Britons to its airports last year, Lebanon 272,066 and Jordan 212,232, according to figures from the CAA.”

      We clearly agree that security theater is the wrong way to go after the unfairly subsidized Gulf carriers. I certainly won’t be checking my laptop into the hold anytime soon, and will choose travel routings that allow me to carry items onto the plane that I want to secure.

      I also want to repeat that I never said and don’t regard the Gulf carriers as the victims here. I believe the passengers are.

      And what I also worry about is that once travelers get accustomed to checking laptops, etc., into the hold, the airlines will push passengers to do so in other situations. So, dear readers, if you think that this ban doesn’t affect you because you don’t fly through the Mid East, it may in future do exactly that, if the airlines start regarding checking electronics as SOP and not—- as they did prior to these bans—- as something that it’s unreasonable to ask their passengers to do and which they actually caution them against doing.

      I hope I’ve addressed your concerns about what you regard as my apparent hypocrisy and appreciate the details you’ve shared with readers and me about subsidies to Gulf airlines– a subject you clearly know much about and which provokes justifiable outrage from you, me, and many others for that matter.

      1. JerryDenim

        I fully retract my statement regarding hypocrisy and I offer a contrite apology. I did in fact take your post as overly sympathetic to and apologetic for the Gulf carriers, whom as everyone can see, I strongly dislike, but I believe my reasoning is very sound and fair minded. I understand now I was wrong about your personal convictions/purchasing habits, but it sounds like you realize how people might have gotten the wrong impression from your post. Sorry again for assuming too much.

        I have no beef with Turkish, but it is also a state owned airline that I thought was somewhat subsidized, (nowhere near the extent of the ME3) but I could be mistaken. I know the Turkish government was paying foreign carriers $6000 a flight to bring tourists to certain destinations so I would think they would have to offer some form of compensatory largess to their state owned flagship carrier. Turkey is certainly not as evil as Qatar, but they’re not exactly the beacon of tolerance and democracy they were before Erdogan turned Turkey into a autocracy- a real pity. Istanbul is wonderful city and I love the south of Turkey as well. Sadly my last visit was about five years ago now. I wish you the best of luck getting around the skies with your MacBook and your Nikon DSLR regardless of which airline you choose to fly, although I hope you are able to continue to avoid patronizing the odious, ridiculously subsidized Gulf carriers. I think we agree that their business practices and their treatment of employees and people they consider second and third class citizens is reprehensible.

  16. Lord Koos

    We normally fly without any checked luggage at all, in fact I’ve flown internationally many times that way, with just a small backpack containing my laptop and other smaller items, and a large carry-on for everything else. What are you supposed to do with your laptop if you don’t have any checked luggage? The ban is ridiculous also because it is just as easy to use a smartphone for nefarious purposes (such triggering explosives, etc) as it is to use a laptop.

  17. John Wright

    Note, there are some new lithium-ion battery regulations that might also cause some airline passenger inconvenience (and possible (temporary?) loss of spare batteries).

    Here is a link to an IATA document about lithium batteries and air transport

    For Li-On batteries, If the battery is not installed in the target equipment, the new IATA document mentions a maximum of state of charge of 30% of their rated design capacity.

    The Li-On battery can be fully charged if it is installed in the equipment.

    Will all the various airport security people have devices to read the state of charge of passengers’ spare batteries?

    Maybe the special provisions A331 and A201 will be heavily used to avoid passenger inconvenience?

    Here is some text from the linked document

    Lithium ion batteries packed by themselves (Packing Instruction 965) (not contained
    in or packed with equipment):
    (a) must be shipped at a state of charge (SoC) not exceeding 30% of their rated
    design capacity. Cells and/or batteries at a SoC of greater than 30% may only be
    shipped with the approval of the State of Origin and the State of the Operator
    under the written conditions established by those authorities, see Special
    Provision A331; and
    (b) are forbidden for transport as cargo on passenger aircraft unless shipped under
    exemption issued by all States concerned, see Special Provision A201.

    If I am understanding this correctly, to safely transport a spare LI-On battery on an airplane, one should keep any spare LI-On batteries charged at no higher than 30% absolute state of charge.

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