On Tuesday, the US Department of Homeland Security announced the introduction of a ban on electronic devices for passengers on nonstop flights originating from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa.
"Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items," a senior administration official said on a call with members of the media.
"Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last-point-of-departure airports to the United States."
The enhanced security procedures will require passengers to place all electronic items larger than a cellphone in their checked luggage so the devices cannot be accessed in flight. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, portable DVD players, gaming devices larger than a smartphone, and travel-size printers and scanners.
The US Federal Aviation Administration, however, requires that all lithium-ion batteries, such as those that power laptops, cameras, and tablets, be allowed on board the aircraft only in carry-on luggage because of concerns about fire. It is unclear how the affected airlines will reconcile those guidelines.
Ten airports in eight countries — plus nine airlines — will be affected by the "laptop ban." They are:
- Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Amman, Jordan.
- Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Cairo, Egypt.
- Ataturk International Airport (IST) in Istanbul, Turkey.
- King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
- King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
- Kuwait International Airport (KWI) near Kuwait City, Kuwait.
- Mohammed V Airport (CMN) in Casablanca, Morocco.
- Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, Qatar.
- Dubai International Airport (DXB) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
- Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Airlines affected by the ban are:
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- Kuwait Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
- Qatar Airways
- Etihad Airways
According to the senior administration officials on the call, the ban will affect only nonstop flights to the US originating from these airports — which equates to roughly 50 flights a day. Passengers connecting through another destination such as an airport in Europe will not be subject to the ban. Passengers connecting through the affected airports for nonstop flights to the US, however, are advised to place their large electronic devices in checked luggage at their point of origination.
No US-based airlines will be directly affected by the ban, as none offer nonstop service to the affected destinations.
Airlines will have up to 96 hours, beginning Tuesday at 8 a.m. EDT, to comply with the new policy. "If they fail to comply with the security directive and emergency amendment, we will work with the Federal Aviation Administration to pull their (operating) certificates and they will not be allowed to fly to the United States," an administration official said on the call.
Administration officials denied claims the new policy was related to the dispute between the US-based airlines American, Delta, and United and their Middle-Eastern rivals from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates over allegations of unfair government subsidies.
The DHS cites the attempted downing of Daallo Airlines Flight 159 in February of last year in which a terrorist managed to sneak a "sophisticated laptop bomb" past X-ray scanners in Somalia as an example of the threat the directive is attempting to counteract. In addition, the agency points to the 2015 bombing of a Russian MetroJet Airbus in Egypt that killed all 224 people on board along with recent terrorist attacks at Brussels Airport and Ataturk International in Istanbul.
Rumors of the laptop ban surfaced Monday after Royal Jordanian Airlines tweeted a description of the ban to its customers before deleting the post a few hours later.
Business Insider asked Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways for comment. According to Emirates, the airline only received the order from the US government a few hours ago. However, all three carriers say that they plan to comply with the directive and will spend the new few days working out the logistics of the ban.
Officials say there is no end date for the ban and its necessity will be periodically evaluated.
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