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Imagine getting ready to board a 13 hour flight with small children, only to be told that the only electronic you can bring on the plane with you is a cell phone. Forget the Kindle, the portable DVD player, a laptop, or even the blessed iPad. It will just be you, the kids and your cell phone for 13 hours. Sound like a nightmare? Well, for passengers headed to the United States from 10 Middle Eastern and African airports, an electronics ban just put into effect makes that a reality. So put down that Nintendo Switch that was advertised as “airplane friendly” and read on.
Electronics Ban Makes Long Haul Travel a Little More Painful
In an announcement made to affected airlines at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, an electronics ban was instituted. The ban would prevent anything other than a cell phone or medical device from being carried on board direct flights from ten Middle Eastern and African airports. Airlines have 96 hours to implement this rule, or face not being allowed to operate in the US.
Electronics Ban Facts
Officials say this ban was prompted by evaluated terrorist threats. With a ban such as this, the concern would usually be from plastic type explosives. The problem? It takes a minute amount to cause damage and, if I can use my phone as a remote control to turn on my living room TV from the kitchen, what’s to stop a determined terrorist from checking his “weapon”?
There is some basis for this type of ban. In 2016, a laptop bomb was detonated on a Daallo flight out of Mogadishu shortly after takeoff. If that bomb had gone off at cruising altitude, it likely would have caused the flight to crash. Instead, it just ripped a hole in the plane, which was able to land safely – minus the bomber who was sucked out of the plane and died.
With local airport officials being left to enforce this ban, there is the potential for confusion. After all, they have to decide whether a large cell phone qualifies as a smartphone or a tablet, or if a small tablet qualifies as a smart phone. Will an iPhone 7 Plus be considered a smartphone or a tablet?
Airlines and Airports Affected by the Electronics Ban
The electronics ban applies to ten airports:
- Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan (AMM)
- Cairo International Airport, Egypt (CAI)
- Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
- King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (JED)
- King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (RAH)
- Kuwait International Airport (KWI)
- Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco (CMN)
- Hamad International, Doha, Qatar (DOH)
- Dubai International, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
- Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates (AUH) (Note: Abu Dhabi employs Homeland Security preclearance techniques where US Customs officials screen passengers before boarding yet is still included.)
Airlines running nonstop direct flights from these ten airports that will need to enforce the new electronics ban regulations are:
- Royal Jordanian
- Egypt Air
- Turkish Airlines
- Saudi Arabian Airlines
- Kuwait Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
- Qatar Airways (issued an alert)
- Etihad Airways
What Devices are Included in the Electronics Ban?
Under the electronics ban all laptops, tablets (iPads, Kindles, etc), portable dvd players, gaming systems larger than a cell phone and digital cameras must be placed in checked luggage. Smartphones and cell phones may be carried on. Exempt from the ban are medical devices.
Potential Danger of the Electronics Ban
Remember the Samsung Galaxy Note 7? Lithium batteries sometimes catch on fire. When this happened in airplane cabins, fires were put out quickly. An igniting lithium battery midway through a 12 hour flight in the baggage compartment? A little more difficult.
Also an issue with great incidences of electronics in checked luggage? Theft. Thieves have a target list of airlines and incoming airports where they know that all the good stuff will be in the checked bags.
This ban also makes laptops, iPads and other devices easier for US customs officials to scan, copy and search upon arrival into the United States, as they will be in checked luggage rather than in the possession of the passenger.
Tips for Travelers in Light of the Electronics Ban
Are you due to travel through one of these airports on a business or family trip? We have some tips for you.
- Allow extra time at the airport. These restrictions came on quickly, so there is little information even on the websites of airlines involved. That leads to extra wait time at the airport, as folks need to check bags and surrender devices. Get there early.
- Traveling for business? Notify your IT department that you will need to check your laptop. They may want to do a backup of work on it to the home office before you fly. Also be sure that other coworkers are aware you will not be able to work on things in flight.
- Check your tickets. It may be possible for you to change your flight to avoid connecting in airports that are on the list. Some credit card rewards will cover this change.
- Booking a flight? Keep the list of airports handy. Airlines have not updated baggage policies yet. When we spot checked, no airlines were warning travelers of this change in the baggage restrictions list that pops up during the booking process.
- Traveling with kids? Now is a great time to stock up on stickers, crayons, coloring items and small toys. Many of these planes have in-flight entertainment, so be sure to pack kid-friendly headphones in your carry-on so that they can be utilized.
- Be kind to your fellow passengers. Long haul flights are tiring enough. Now, without some of the convenient distractions we normally turn to, tempers are going to be up. No one wants to be on a plane with screaming children, but keep in mind that many of the go-to distractions will not be allowed. Be gentle. Smile. Meet your fellow passengers.
- Charge your smartphone before takeoff so that you have a fully juiced device. Expect outlets to be at a premium as others do the same. We strongly recommend being everyone’s hero by carrying a power strip.
How will this new electronics ban change your flight preparations? Do you think that it will expand to other airports?