Wednesday, March 22, 2017

U.S. electronic device (including cameras) carry-on ban on flights from 8 Muslim countries is misguided

Nikon D750This week, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), notified airlines that fly from eight Muslim-majority nations, that effective Friday, March 24, passengers would be banned from bringing electronic devices larger than smartphones into airplane cabins on their direct flights to the U.S. from those nations.
Soon afterward, the United Kingdom instituted a similar ban involving some different airlines and countries.

The ban includes:
  • Laptops
  • E-readers
  • Tablets
  • Printers
  • Electronic games
  • Portable DVD players
  • Cameras
  • Other electronic devices larger than a smartphone
U.S. officials confirmed that approved electronic medical devices may be brought into the cabin after additional screening and that the banned devices may be stowed in the airplane's hold in checked baggage.

US citizens with preclearance through the TSA’s Global Entry program or TSA Pre?® are not exempt from the ban.

For photographers, I contacted TSA this morning to specifically ask if photographic lenses were part of the ban, as some contain minimal electronic circuitry for auto-focus and image stabilization. TSA avoided answering the question, deferring to the airlines that they've ordered to enforce the ban saying,
“The new enhancements apply to electronics larger than a cell phone. We recommend you reach out to your airline for specific questions about your item.”
That's the same kind of double talk I've gotten in the past when asking TSA about tripods and monopods.

I reached out to a couple of the airlines, who also didn't answer the question, saying they didn't know if they're supposed to ban lenses or not.

It would seem that photographic lenses aren't considered electronic devices, however, there is no way to tell, at this time, if airport security will include them in the ban anyway.

The ban affects nine airlines: Royal Jordanian Airlines, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad Airways.

The ban applies to direct flights to the US from 10 international airports serving the following cities:
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Amman, Jordan
  • Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Questions about the ban have been referred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which said the ban was necessary because
“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.”
U.S. officials have backed off the claim that the ban was implemented in response to an unspecified threat they learned of several weeks ago. Officials are now stating that the ban wasn't prompted by any new or specific threat.

Officials said the ban will continue until the threat changes, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon since it wasn't prompted by any specific threat. It's possible additional airports will be added to the list, according to DHS.

The ban creates difficult problems for traveling families and lost productivity for business travelers.

The flights to the U.S. covered by the ban are long flights. Families count on electronic games and books for children to keep them occupied and well behaved. With today's tight carry-on limits, bringing lots of books and games plus essential snacks aren't an option.

Business travelers depend on being able to use their laptops, in-flight, to get considerable work completed before arriving home or at their destination.

The ban creates serious theft and liability issues for travelers.

Expensive laptop computers, digital cameras, iPads, and other portable electronic devices, forced to be stowed in checked luggage due to the ban will be a powerful lure for thieves. Durning a similar ban in 2006, in the United Kingdom, luggage theft skyrocketed.

Moreover, airlines don't accept liability for lost, stolen or damaged valuables and breakables. They will refuse liability for missing or damaged electronic gear stowed in checked luggage due to the ban. In addition, lost or stolen laptops and tablets with private and confidential information can cause serious privacy problems for air travelers.

The ban creates a serious problem for travel photographers.

Airlines don't accept liability for missing or damaged cameras and laptops packed in checked luggage. Due to typical rough handling of checked luggage, it's likely that many cameras and laptops, if packed in them, will be damaged. Due to those facts, it's easy to understand why photographers prefer to carry their cameras and laptops in carry-on bags.

Under the ban, cameras and laptops aren't permitted in planes' cabins, so they must be packed in checked luggage. Many will likely be damaged with no compensation from the airlines and due to their value, they will no doubt be prime targets for thieves at airports taking advantage of the ban.

The ban creates a serious fire and explosion safety issue.

Portable electronic devices today, including laptops, tablets, camera, etc., are powered by Lithium-ion batteries. The FAA has placed significant restrictions on air travelers' Lithium-ion batteries because of their serious fire, smoke and explosion potential, going so far as to ban spare and large lithium based batteries from checked luggage. Since 1991 through 2016 there have been 138 aircraft and airport lithium battery incidents.

On a Delta Airlines flight, en route to Atlanta, GA from Honolulu, HI last December, a fire from a laptop's Lithium-ion battery was discovered in an overhead bin. The flight crew extinguished it, needing three halon and two water fire extinguishers to put out the fire.

There is no telling how bad the fire may have been and how much damage it might have caused, had the laptop been stowed in a passenger's checked luggage in the cargo hold, now required for the flights under the ban. In-flight fires can cause planes to crash.

The ban won't keep explosives in electronic devices out of the plane.

If an explosive laden laptop gets through security, as one did in Somalia last year, would putting it in the cargo hold instead of the cabin actually make the passengers safer? Technology experts like Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley say no.

What should the U.S. and U.K. do to combat the new terrorism threat?

Everyone agrees that terrorist threats need to be taken seriously, but is this ban the appropriate and most effective action to handle this threat? I don't think so.

Even if we discount the issues of family hardships, loss of productivity for business travelers, theft, loss or damage to our devices and privacy problems, all of which can be mitigated to an extent, we cannot do the same for the potential fire and explosion hazard this ban doesn't address and likely exacerbates.

Moving an explosive laden laptop out of the cabin and into the hold doesn't make passengers safe. Stowing electronic devices with Lithium-ion batteries in unreachable cargo holds of aircraft has real potential danger according to the FAA.

The Trump Administration must rethink their misguided ban. They should eliminate the ban and instead require passengers submit their electronic devices to a rigorous examination by x-ray and explosive sniffing dogs to find secreted explosives, then allow passengers to carry their clean devices into their plane's cabin.

1 comment:

Jen - Ames Iowa. said...

Wow! Great article. It would really put a damper on photo trips to those countries.

I never considered that the ban wasn't a good idea and that there was a better way to handle the problem. Trump's people need to think much, much more before they act. So do the Brits. They've taken the easy way out and it's all security theater again, just like TSA usually is.

Keep up the great work.

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