USA abandons 'electronics ban' idea for Europe-USA flights

USA abandons 'electronics ban' idea for Europe-USA flights

UPDATE | The United States has stopped short of extending an all-out 'electronics ban' to US-bound flights from Europe: a move that would have caused chaos for both passengers and airlines alike.

Instead, both regions continue to consider "other measures" to improve inflight safety and security, reports BBC News.

The decision follows a four-hour meeting in Brussels between representatives of EU countries and the USA, although details of the specific threat which prompted the ban's initial consideration have not been revealed.

The existing ban on large electronic devices on selected flights from the Middle East to the United States remains in place, with passengers unable to bring laptops, tablets, large headphones or indeed any other gadgets larger than a smartphone into the cabin: affecting passengers aboard Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways flights and more.

PREVIOUS | Airlines are preparing for an anticipated widening of a U.S. ban on bringing laptops and other large electronic devices on board planes bound for American airports.

Officials from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and industry trade group Airlines for America are scheduled to meet with Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in Washington Thursday afternoon to discuss details of a possible expansion, according to three people familiar with the ongoing discussions.

It wasn’t clear whether there would be an immediate announcement of new electronics restrictions on flights to the U.S. from Europe or other airports, the people said. They asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak about the meeting.

Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are among carriers to say they’re making preparations for the moratorium on devices, including tablets and games consoles, to be expanded to their European hubs after initially targeting Mideast and African airports.

The European Commission has written to President Donald Trump’s administration to urge cooperation on any new measures.

“We are in contact with our partners and the authorities, and we’re preparing for the possibility,” Air France spokeswoman Ulli Gendrot said by phone. “We understand that there’s a meeting in Washington with airlines on this topic today, so we should know more after that.”

Different scenarios

Lufthansa has been working internally on different scenarios for responding to any extension of the ban, spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf said. Both companies have close ties to major U.S. operators, with Air France-KLM allied to Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa partnered with United Continental Holdings Inc.

U.S. airlines have been discussing a potential expansion of the ban with officials at Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration for several weeks, according to one of the U.S. people briefed on the talks.

The U.S. announced on March 21 that electronic devices larger than smartphones would be banned from cabins on flights originating from eight countries, impacting global hubs including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul.

The action, which affects major carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, resulted from fears that bombs capable of downing an airliner could be hidden in the devices.

Explanations called for

A travel industry trade group, the U.S. Travel Association, called on Homeland Security officials to announce their plan as soon as possible. “It is critical that the U.S. government clearly communicate the details of this new policy and the reasons why it’s needed,” Jonathan Grella, the group’s spokesman, said in an email.

Grella urged the public to take the threat seriously. At the same time, security officials should seek new security protocols to better assess whether electronic devices contain bombs.

While a broadening of the restrictions could “only be a negative” for airlines, making on-time departure more challenging and adding costs for loaner devices, it might at least amount to a “zero-sum game” if applied universally to trans-Atlantic operators, said Mark Simpson, an analyst at Goodbody Stockbrokers in Dublin.

Carriers impacted by the existing ban have reported a slide in U.S. load factors as some travelers take alternative routes, though that will become less of an option in the event of expanded curbs.

DHS Secretary Kelly and Representative John Katko, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Transportation Security Subcommittee, have said in recent weeks that the initial measures were prompted by strong intelligence and that an expansion is possible.

A DHS spokesman added Tuesday that a wider rollout of the restrictions was being considered, but that a decision hadn’t been made. The department didn’t respond to an emailed request for more information on Wednesday.

EU Commissioners Dimitris Avramopoulos and Violeta Bulc have meanwhile written to their American counterparts about the matter. The communication says that the bloc has had “a long-standing and fruitful cooperation on security” with the U.S. and that the two should act together “to provide a joint response to shared threats,” spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said Thursday.

European airlines waiting

Airports Council International, which represents hubs around the world, said it has been liaising with bodies including the International Air Transport Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the European Commission and the DHS’s Transportation Security Administration in anticipation of the ban being extended.

“We’re trying to make sure that there is good coordination involving airports and airlines,” said Robert O’Meara, a spokesman for ACI Europe. “The key thing is to make sure the message is communicated in a coherent way.”

British Airways referred calls to the U.K. Department for Transport, which said it doesn’t discuss security measures or comment on speculation. Britain has imposed a laptops ban of its own affecting direct flights from six states.

Dubai-based Emirates said it’s unwilling to comment until an extension has been formally announced and it knows which European countries will be affected. The carrier has suggested the current ban is discriminatory, and is paring capacity to the U.S. as the measures impact occupancy.

Downsides for airlines

Goodbody’s Simpson said that with at least 50 percent of business passengers wanting to work during flights, some could opt to downgrade to premium-economy berths where that’s not an option, hurting airline revenue.

The wait at baggage claim for the collection of checked laptops is also a “big negative,” while handing over devices or using loaners may not be an option for some firms keen to safeguard sensitive information.

Shortly after the original ban was announced the Flight Safety Foundation, a leading aviation safety group, warned that it could create risks by shifting more lithium-battery powered devices to cargo holds.

Lithium-powered batteries have been linked to fires that destroyed three cargo airliners and recent testing has shown they can burn and explode even with current fire suppression systems.

Officials are coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide carriers with a bulletin on the proper handling of batteries, DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke said last month.

 

8 Comments

  • DiveTravel

    DiveTravel

    12 May, 2017 12:22 pm

    Does anyone know what the "average" travel insurance would do if your laptop/similar device was damaged/stolen if it was being checked-in? - a result of this ban....

    I was under the impression that as it was not in your possession and left unattended, that it is not covered.
    No member give thanks

  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    12 May, 2017 02:11 pm

    Oh just impeach that a-hole already!
    No member give thanks

  • johninoz

    johninoz

    12 May, 2017 03:30 pm

    I think the fact he is still there after a 100 days of stupidity indicates the Yanks are either just as stupid as he is, or they haven't got the guts to move on him.  At least they have a mechanism to remove a useless President.  We can't get rid of Turnbull or any leader acting against our interests.

    On the subject of insurance, this current ban has been in operation for quite a few weeks now.  Do we have any sense of how this is playing out?  Have there been reports of thefts of electronics from hold luggage?  Have insurers offered any comment at all?

    Perhaps Canadian airports will do well out of this with people flying there first for their international journey, and then it's basically domestic from there.  Trump won't ban electronics on US domestic flights, even though there is no reason why they aren't subject to the same risks.
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  • crazybenjamin

    crazybenjamin

    13 May, 2017 11:29 am

    "We can't get rid of Turnbull or any leader acting against our interests"

    *cough*Tony Abbott*cough*Julia Gillard*cough*KevinRudd*cough*
    No member give thanks

  • Victor Perez

    vperez

    19 May, 2017 09:57 pm

    You have to remember that Trump is president because of the States silly electoral college system that allows the minority to reign terror over the majority. In this case, people from poorer red states over blue states. Plus Republicans only care about undoing everything Obama achieved so they will let this walking turd continue so long as they achieve their goals. 

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  • jad01

    jad01

    12 May, 2017 04:29 pm

    Thousands of Americans are killed by other Americans every year with guns.
    But how many Americans (in their homeland) were killed by a foreigner with a tech gadget last year?
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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    12 May, 2017 04:43 pm

    Precisely.

    "Grella urged the public to take the threat seriously. " 

    Question here is whether there is confidence in the current administration to exercise such a policy appropriately. 
    Or will this wider ban be deployed as part of yet another domestic deflection strategy. 
    Personally, I have zero confidence.  
    Member who gave thanks

    darrenoz

  • RocketRog

    RocketRog

    15 May, 2017 10:20 pm

    How many Americans are killed by guns each year? Usually about 35,000, but some years recently close to 40,000. Actually, the police kill more Americans each year than terrorists do. To be honest, there would be a better safety outcome if car seat belts and motorcycle helmets were made compulsory.
    Member who gave thanks

    worldwanderer

Guest

26 May, 2017 12:26 am

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