US bans electronics on some inbound flights from Mideast, Turkey, Africa

Beginning Tuesday, the US government is temporarily barring passengers on certain flights originating from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Kamran Jebreili/AP/File
Emirates passenger planes wait at Dubai airport in United Arab Emirates in 2014.

Passengers flying on non-stop, US-bound flights from 10 airports in eight mostly Middle Eastern and North African countries will not be allowed to bring electronics larger than cell phones in carry-on baggage starting Tuesday morning, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Tuesday.

The mandate, which orders the travelers to pack their larger consumer electronic devices such as tablets, laptops, e-readers, and cameras in their checked baggage, is in response to unspecified terror threats and will be in place indefinitely, senior Trump administration officials said. Larger medical devices will also be allowed onboard.

The nine carriers that fly directly from 10 international airports in countries Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco, and Qatar, have until Friday to comply with the new restrictions, or face being barred from flying to the United States, according to US officials. No US-based airlines will be affected, as they do not operate direct flights from those cities to the United States. Officials estimate about 50 flights a day, all on foreign carriers, will be impacted under the new rule. 

Although all the airports affected are in majority-Muslim countries and came after President Trump twice issued a travel ban of six majority-Muslim nations, a DHS spokeswoman said the government "did not target specific nations. We relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected."

Instead, the DHS said the “aviation security enhancements” are prompted by “terrorists’ ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years.” The department also cited examples of previous airliner downing in Egypt in 2015, attempts to do so in Somalia in 2016, and the armed attacks at international airports in Brussels and Istanbul in 2016.

"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," DHS said in a statement, according to Reuters.

But aviation experts warn about the drawbacks of this policy. Britain in 2006 implemented a similar ban amid concerns over terror attacks, which led to a surge in thefts from baggage and some laptops catching fire in the hold – which is harder to detect than in the cabin, according to Jeffrey Price, a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. 

"There would be a huge disadvantage to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage," he told Reuters. 

Others said the ban would also benefit US airlines, as “it encourages connections rather than flying non-stop for anyone unwilling to check their laptop,” aviation blogger Gary Leff wrote on Tuesday. 

While foreign officials have been informed about the impending order starting Sunday, confusion ensued on Tuesday across the airports. A New York-bound EgyptAir flight departed on Tuesday with passengers carrying their laptops and other electronic devices onboard. Most airlines impacted by the new rule, such as Emirates, the Royal Jordanian, and the UAE’s national carrier Etihad Airways, have yet to enforce it as they wait for formal instructions from the United States. 

The new order came days after federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii halted parts of Trump’s revised travel ban hours before it was schedule to take effect. The ban, which would have barred citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from traveling to the United State for 90 days, discriminates against Muslims, the judges said. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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