Wider laptop ban to cost travellers $1.4b: Airline group

It says extending curbs to Europe hinders travel, may not be best way to counter terror

LONDON • The widening of a United States ban on carrying electronic devices aboard aircraft to include flights from Europe will cost travellers in excess of US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion), said the head of the airline industry's global lobby group.

Extending the curbs, which currently apply to only some US- bound services from the Middle East and North Africa, would obstruct travel and might not be the best way of countering the terror threat, International Air Transport Association (Iata) chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said in an interview yesterday.

In March, the US authorities banned passengers on direct flights to the US from 10 airports in eight countries from taking laptops, tablets and other electronic devices larger than mobile phones into the cabin, for fear that a bomb could be concealed in them.

US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman David Lapan said on Tuesday it is "likely that the restrictions that were put in place in March could be expanded to other areas". His remarks came after the DHS sparked concern in Europe last week when it said it would soon decide on extending the ban to European airlines.

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Mr de Juniac told Bloomberg: "Travelling with your laptop is part of everyday life." He predicted that further measures will cause "significant" disruption in the trans-Atlantic business market.

"We are not sure that this ban is adapted to the threat. We don't know what is the basis or intelligence that justifies this measure."

While the Middle East moratorium affects 350 US-bound flights per week, extending it to the 28 European Union states plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland would impact 390 a day, or more than 2,500 a week, Iata reckons.

The measure would cost passengers US$655 million in terms of lost productivity, US$216 million from longer travel times, and US$195 million for the rental of loan devices on board, it calculates.

IS THIS REALLY A GOOD IDEA?

Travelling with your laptop is part of everyday life. We are not sure that this ban is adapted to the threat. We don't know what is the basis or intelligence that justifies this measure.

IATA CHIEF EXECUTIVE ALEXANDRE DE JUNIAC, on the United States' potential extension of the ban to European airlines

Some businesses will also choose to cancel trips rather than hand over laptops loaded with confidential information, according to the industry group, which represents 265 airlines around the world.

Carriers themselves would incur costs from departure delays, additional handling of hold luggage and liability for damaged or stolen devices, while traveller numbers, fares and, ultimately, frequencies could all decline, it says. At the same time, flights may become less safe as more lithium battery-powered devices are stowed in holds.

Iata needs to be told more about US concerns in order to contribute to developing a solution, Mr de Juniac said, adding: "We can provide appropriate advice when it comes to security and protection measures for passengers. What we have said to the US and UK authorities and to the Europeans is, please, if you want to take this measure, work very closely with the industry."

In a letter to US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc on Tuesday, Iata suggested increasing the use of explosives detectors and sniffer dogs to enhance airport security.

DHS deputy secretary Elaine Duke was set to attend talks with European partners in Brussels yesterday. Mr Lapan said the talks would consider the "scale and scope" of what the ban might entail.

Mr Lapan defended the prospective ban on Tuesday, saying the authorities need to keep up with the changing nature of terrorist threats. "It's always incumbent on us to figure out where those who wish to do us harm are going to next and try to stop that," he said.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Wider laptop ban to cost travellers $1.4b: Airline group'. Print Edition | Subscribe