The US Department of Homeland Security's laptop ban is likely to expand to include incoming nonstop flights from Europe in the near future.
In fact, officials in the Trump administration are expected to meet with their European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss exactly that.
Officially, the DHS has not made a final decision regarding an expansion of the ban, which already affects 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa.
But aviation analyst and airline sources tell Business Insider they see such a ban as inevitable and think one could go into effect within a few weeks.
According to the DHS, rules prohibiting all electronic devices larger than a cellphone from entering the cabin are being considered because of intelligence suggesting terrorists have developed techniques to smuggle explosives in such devices.
— David Lapan (@SpoxDHS) May 11, 2017
So, with an expanded new ban looming, what does this all mean for airlines, airports, and most important, the passengers?
"If the electronics ban is expanded, we're in for a summer of international travel hell," airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told Business Insider in an email.
For one thing, the scope of a laptop ban on flights coming from Europe dwarfs that of the existing one, which affects 50 daily flights operated by nine airlines.
According to a report issued by the airfare-forecasting app Hopper, a European ban would affect an average of 400 nonstop flights each day from 49 airports operated by 53 airlines.
A policy change affecting such a massive number of international route networks would be exceedingly complex.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the ban when confirmed would be implemented "swiftly and suddenly" to head off any potential terrorist acts, Airways senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara told Business Insider.
Thus, airlines and their employees would have little time to install the new procedures associated with the ban. Harteveldt is concerned by the potential "havoc" and hassle the quick implementation could cause for travelers.
"Airports will become zoos," he told us. "The additional security-screening time may require passengers to arrive at airports four or more hours in advance of flights."
As for the affected airlines, most have remained tight-lipped about their response planning. Those that have spoken with us, however, have acknowledged having a contingency plan in place ready to be rolled out to customers and employees through direct messaging, news, and social media.
For their customers, their message is centered on keeping large electronics at home when it comes time to travel to Europe.
At the same time, some are considering secure laptop valet and loaner laptop services.
Customer experience aside, a laptop ban could have a profound effect on the airlines from a business perspective.
"I am concerned an expansion of the ban may wreak extensive financial impact on airlines," Harteveldt said. "If demand falls, some airlines may lay off workers."
According to Hopper's chief data scientist, Patrick Surry, 80% of the flights affected by an expanded ban are operated by 10 airlines including Delta, British Airways, United, American, and Lufthansa.
Harteveldt's concerns lie with the fact that such a ban would disproportionately affect business travelers — a highly lucrative customer base airlines flying across the Atlantic need to make ends meet.
"These travelers are often required to keep company-issued electronics with them and are told not to check laptops or other electronics," he told us. "As a result, these travelers may cancel trips or their companies may explore chartering aircraft."
At the same time, Bhaskara seems more optimistic about the potential harm the ban may cause airlines.
"I don't think we'll see a huge effect in the market for flights traveling between Europe and the US as destinations," he said. "If you're going to Europe for business, you're going to Europe for business because you or your company has significant business interests there. This isn't going to stop you from making plans to travel."
Bhaskara believes airlines will, however, see business suffer for flights from the US to India and Southeast Asia that connect through Europe. For these flights, customers would most likely turn to high-quality options from Asia such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, ANA, JAL, Asiana, or Korean Air. China's four major international carriers (Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and Hainan) have all been heavily discounting their tickets and could snag some of that business as well.
With that said, there is a silver lining for travelers headed to Asia. With this projected decline in demand, Bhaskara expects there to be quite a few good deals to be had.
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