Confirmed on Tuesday 21 March 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has declared an electronics ban for incoming international flights from airports in Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East. The ban dictates that electronics that are larger than a smartphone must be checked with baggage. The ten listed airports have been given 96 hours to comply.
The Department explained that they are affecting these changes due to intelligence that terrorist groups are targeting commercial aviation, Daallo Airlines Flight 159 was cited as an example. The DHS plans to keep the ban in place until the threat changes. Perceptions of the ban are divided. Some feel that the ban is a necessary step to increasing passenger safety, while others feel that the ban impact on safety is minimal and hurts relations between the US and the 8 countries the affected.
The explosion that grounded Flight 159 on 2 February 2016 was caused by an explosive device that was hidden in a laptop. The laptop was brought into the plane cabin by a passenger in a wheelchair. The passenger was seated next the right wing of the Airbus A321-111. The passenger detonated the explosive as the aircraft was climbing between 11,000 – 12,000 feet. The explosion killed the passenger (sustaining wounds from the explosion and then being sucked out of the airplane due to pressure), injured two other people aboard the flight, and blew a hole into the side of the plane.
The pilot was able to save the plane since the explosion occurred before the cabin was completely pressurized and flying at a higher altitude. If the device exploded later in the flight, it may have brought down the aircraft, most likely killing everyone on board. Sources indicate that two airport employees may have played a role in smuggling the laptop aboard and that lack of scanning technology prevented the explosive from being detected.
Many feel that this is a proactive move by the DHS, giving the department time to adopt better screening procedures. Supporters say that the DHS can’t affect these changes overnight, the ban is taking steps to protect commercial passengers now, without wading through red-tape. Government authorities say that the cargo hold of aircraft is better able to sustain damages than the cabin. Even if an explosive is detonated on a plane, the likelihood of airframe damage and passenger injury is greatly reduced. While explosives could be hidden away in a smartphone, they don’t provide as much space for explosives as larger devices do.
Those against the ban feel that this change could cause more harm than good. The majority of checked electronic devices contain lithium batteries, which are susceptible to smoldering or catching fire. If these devices catch on fire in the cabin, passengers and airline personnel detect the incident quickly and have nearby equipment to extinguish the flame. In an aircraft cargo hold, not only would no one be aware if there were a fire, but the devices would be stored among flammable liquids (such as hairspray) that aren’t allowed in the cabin.
Other worries surround US relations with the affected airlines and country governments. Some see this is a protectionist decision, prodding travelers to use airlines that aren’t affected (many that are in partnerships with US-based airlines). Business travelers also worry about lost productivity, as they normally work on these devices during long flights.
The United Kingdom has announced a similar ban, although they aren’t including Emirates or the Dubai airport. Emirates responded quickly by showing an advertisement featuring their extensive in-flight entertainment options. The video shows US actress Jennifer Aniston enjoying the in-flight displays and games.