The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in talks to implement a laptop ban on all flights from Europe to the United States. The US has been raising the bar in airline security for several years by implementing a variety of measures, including conducting more stringent screening of carry-on luggage and restricting items that are permitted in carry-on luggage. There is already a ban on bringing electronic devices, such as laptops, into the cabins of US-bound planes that depart from ten airports in Muslim-majority countries, including Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Now, the US is considering a similar ban on flights originating in Europe.
The rationale behind both bans is that the US government is concerned about intelligence suggesting that terrorist groups may have technology that allows them to hide bombs in electronic devices. For this reason, passengers who wish to bring electronic devices onto an affected flight must place them in checked luggage, which the government believes makes potential bombs less of a threat. If detonated, the surrounding bags could limit the impact of the blast on people inside the cabin.
As of now, it is unknown which airports would be affected by the European ban, which electronic devices would be banned, and how long the ban would last for. The US and its European partners are continuing talks to find a mutual solution for their security concerns. If the talks result in a ban that is similar to the ban on flights originating in Muslim-majority countries, travellers should expect a ban on bringing the following items into airplane cabins: laptop computers, cameras, tablets, electronic gaming units, portable DVD players, and all other electronics larger than a cell phone. These items would need to be stored in checked luggage. Phones and essential medical equipment would still be permitted in the cabins.
Passengers who typically work on laptops during flights would need to find alternative solutions because typing on a laptop will no longer be an option. They will also not be able to use their laptops while waiting at the gate for their flight to board. People who travel on flights affected by the ban can prepare by ensuring they have a good book, some magazines, or a fully charged phone to keep them preoccupied. Parents who typically give their children a tablet for watching movies should pack alternative sources of entertainment for them. In addition, passengers who are connecting at an airport affected by the ban should ensure that they pack their electronics in their checked luggage from the beginning of their journey.
The intention behind the electronics bans is to increase national security, but there are some risks to implementing them. Specifically, many of the electronic devices that would end up in checked luggage are powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries can explode or catch fire under certain conditions, which increases the risk of a fire in the cargo hold. With no one monitoring the baggage hold, a small fire could spread quickly. For this reason, some experts believe it is safer to have electronics stored in the cabin where people would be able to notice and address a lithium-ion fire immediately. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued warnings about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries, but it is deferring to the DHS on security regulations.