POLITICS
03/21/2017 05:52 pm ET

Electronics Ban Means Unfriendly Skies For Many Travelers

Checking expensive equipment and devices holding sensitive information could be a huge problem.

A new U.S. policy banning certain electronic devices in the cabin on flights coming from parts of the Middle East and North Africa has already put potential travelers on the fence.

The ban ― which mandates that devices larger than a cellphone be checked ― affects passengers on direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Nine airlines are listed: Egypt Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Saudia and Turkish Airlines.

Some who would otherwise have no problem working on long flights or securing their valuables via carry-on are now subject to alarming security and safety concerns.

With roughly 50 flights per day affected by the new rules, thousands of people per week can expect to change the way they fly, sometimes dramatically.

Their questions, as of Tuesday afternoon, have gone unanswered:

What happened to the federal government’s lithium battery warnings?

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to be sure nothing explodes ― inadvertently or otherwise ― on a flight. Small fires and explosions do happen, however, and at least some FAA guidelines try to steer anything that could catch fire into the cabin where it can be managed.

That includes lithium ion batteries. If they’re spare batteries and not already inserted in a device, the general rule is that they have to stay in the cabin. The same rule goes for e-cigarettes. The Transportation Security Administration’s new ban reportedly supersedes those warnings, making it unclear exactly what you should and should not stow in the plane’s hold.

Alicia Anir, a photographer and flight attendant who regularly travels to and from some of the countries listed, said she can’t imagine checking her equipment.

The thought of checking my camera gear and laptop is sickening,” she told The Huffington Post via email. “Who the hell puts lithium batteries in cargo? If they blow up, we’re SOL!”

What if your employer relies on your in-flight work?

Meredith Morrison, a management consultant based in Dubai, typically flies Emirates from the Middle East back to the U.S. for holidays and family gatherings, she told HuffPost. She’s able to make long flights because she’s able to work on them.

“I definitely need my laptop with me to work on the plane, especially on the 16-hour flight to Houston,” she said.

That may seem like a small price to pay, but the changes will hamper her work to the point where she now plans to switch airlines and add a layover in order to keep using her laptop.

Using it isn’t just essential; losing it could have legal ramifications. Much of the information on her devices is confidential between her and her clients.

“We have layers of security protections on our laptops, but who knows who’d be able to break them,” she said.

Which brings us to our third question:

Isn’t checking expensive equipment a security risk and a liability?

The short answer is absolutely.

Customs agents essentially have blanket authority to search your belongings and the information in your electronics when you arrive after an international flight, though specific rules can get murky. But travelers often want to keep their information and valuables safe from any prying eyes, federal or otherwise.

“I am a researcher, and, just like journalists, we carry data in our laptops,” Banu Akdenizli, an associate professor of communication at Northwestern University in Qatar, told HuffPost. “Checking that data in with luggage is a liability. What if it gets lost or stolen?”

Like Morrison, Akdenizli travels between the U.S. and some of the countries on the list. They join a chorus of people wondering what happens if electronics they’d normally bring aboard get swiped.

Stephanie Block, who contacted HuffPost after the ban news broke, said she’s going on vacation to one of those countries at the end of the month. She wonders now if she needs to cancel. The whole trip relies on her ability to take photos, and she doesn’t know which expensive pieces of equipment she’d be allowed to keep close.

“An electronics ban is a huge inconvenience and potentially a financial setback if something were to happen to our expensive camera equipment that will now be at risk of damage or theft,” she told HuffPost.

“We’ve had stuff stolen from our luggage, like clothes and jewelry. The airlines brush it off and don’t cover certain things, like jewelry .... What are we going to do now? Do we wait and see what happens, or do we risk it by checking equipment?”

HuffPost

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