What to know about US, British cabin ban on larger electronic devices

A traveller walking past a newly-opened TSA Pre-check application centre at LaGuardia Airport. The US is banning all electronic devices larger than an average-sized mobile phone.
A traveller walking past a newly-opened TSA Pre-check application centre at LaGuardia Airport. The US is banning all electronic devices larger than an average-sized mobile phone. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON/LONDON - The United States and Britain on Tuesday (March 21) banned electronic gadgets bigger than handphones from the passenger compartment of flights from airports in several Middle Eastern and North African nations.

Travellers can still bring gadgets such as laptops, tablets and game consoles, but these must be packed in the checked in baggage.

Canada and France are considering whether to impose similar measures, but Germany, Australia and New Zealand have said they are not considering a ban.

 

Here's what we know so far:

 

What is banned by the US and Britain?

The US is banning all electronic devices larger than an average-sized mobile phone. Britain bans devices that are larger than a normal-sized mobile phone. It has specified that the ban would apply to devices bigger than 16 cm in length, 9.3 cm in width and 1.5 cm thick.

Which airports are affected?

The US ban applies to flights from 10 airports in eight countries.

1. Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco

2. Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey

3. Cairo International Airport, Egypt

4. Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan

5. King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

6. King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

7. Kuwait International Airport

8. Hamad International, Doha, Qatar

9. Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates

10. Dubai International, United Arab Emirates

The British ban affects all the airports in six countries - Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey.

Which airlines are affected?

Since US airlines do not have direct flights from the airports affected, its ban affects nine non-US airlines: Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

The British ban affects six British airlines, including charters - British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson. It also impacts eight foreign carriers, including Egyptair, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air and Turkish Airlines.

When will the ban start and end?

The US has given the affected airlines 96 hours, beginning at 3.00am on Tuesday (3pm on Tuesday, March 21, Singapore time), to inform travellers of the ban. Officials were not able to say when the order would end.

The British ban applies immediately from Tuesday and also has no end date.

Why impose the ban?

Officials in both the US and Britain would not give any details on what exactly prompted the bans.

The US Department of Homeland Security said, however, that extremists are seeking "innovative methods" to attack jets. It cited an incident in Somalia in February last year in which the Shabaab insurgent group said it had managed to place a bomb in a plane leaving Mogadishu for Djibouti. The device exploded shortly after takeoff, ripping a hole in the plane's side, but killed only the suspected bomber before the aircraft landed safely.

American authorities also cited the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt in 2015, as well as attacks at airports in Brussels and Istanbul.

CNN quoted a US official as saying the ban was believed to be related to a threat posed by the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In London, a government source only said Britain was "privy to the same intelligence" as the US. British Transport Minister Chris Grayling said: "We face a constantly evolving threat from terrorism and must respond accordingly."

What do security experts say?

Security experts are divided on the effectiveness of such a ban on electronic devices.

Mr Matthew Finn, managing director at Augmentiq, said placing such devices in the hold rather than in the cabin made little sense. That is because improvised explosive devices (IED) could be triggered via a variety of mechanisms, including a small mobile phone that would still be in the cabin. "I imagine there must be some reliable intelligence that gives credibility to the threat; I just can't see how this particular measure will make anything or anyone safer as a result," he said.

Mr Bruce Schneier, security technologist and lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, disagreed. "Forcing it in the plane's hold would make it much harder to detonate, since the terrorist has to design an automatic mechanism rather than doing it manually," he said.

Some experts also questioned the scope of the ban. "A partial ban targeting only few airlines in some countries will not protect passengers from a terrorist threat," said Mr Ruben Morales, head of corporate safety at Hong Kong Airlines.

"Nowadays airlines are highly connected through alliances and codeshare agreements... Nothing prevents passengers from bringing their electronic devices onboard non-direct flights to the US from countries outside of the ban," he added.

SOURCES: AFP, Reuters, Washington Post