The US Still Not Banning Laptops for European Flights

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Ever since the laptop ban was announced in March of 2017 by the US and UK for flights departing certain Middle Eastern/Northern Africa countries, there’s been talk of the ban expanding to other countries. Earlier this month, those rumors peaked, with many reporting that a laptop ban for flights departing from Europe was imminent.

However, the EU and airlines pushed back on this ban, citing safety risks about lithium batteries catching fire in the cargo hold with nobody there to quickly put out a fire (and probably the huge disruption to passengers, too). Instead of implementing the ban, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) met with EU officials in Brussels to discuss the options available, and they ultimately decided to at least hold off on implementing the laptop ban.

Well, this week more discussions have taken place. On Tuesday, Secretary John Kelly spoke to to European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc about the possibility of implementing the ban. According to Politico, this resulted in yet another decision to not put a laptop ban in place. Instead, “Both sides have agreed to intensify technical talks and try to find a common solution.”

But there’s still no guarantee that the laptop ban won’t happen.

The DHS also issued the following statements:

“Secretary Kelly affirmed he will implement any and all measures necessary to secure commercial aircraft flying to the United States — including prohibiting large electronic devices from the passenger cabin — if the intelligence and threat level warrant it.” (emphasis added).

“While a much-discussed expansion of the ban on large electronic devices in the cabin on flights to the United States was not announced today, the Secretary made it clear that the an expansion is still on the table.”

This comes just days after we heard the DHS considering putting this laptop ban in place for all international flights, so it’s reassuring to hear that at least for now the ban won’t be in place. But I’m still not convinced that this ban won’t be put into practice.

For one, it’s clear that discussions regarding this ban are going to be a ongoing process, dependent on what type of intel surfaces so there’s still leaving this decision wide open.

Second, I think if (or sadly when) there’s another major terrorist attack, especially if it’s related to the airlines or airport security, that’s going to be the impetus for putting this new ban into effect. Right now the ban would cause a lot of immediate backlash but if it comes on the heels of another major attack in the aviation arena, I’d count on seeing the ban put into effect virtually overnight.

I personally don’t have a problem with policies put into effect to make our lives safer even if they would greatly inconvenience someone like myself, but I do have my doubts about the efficacy of this laptop ban for European flights since:

  • A terrorist could still bring these laptop bombs on to an aircraft from another country or simply enter the US and then try their luck with getting through TSA since TSA had up to a 95% failure rate for detecting weapons and fake bombs.
  • Bombs can still go off in the cargo hold
  • The risk of fires in the hold due to lithium batteries might outweigh the security risks.

To me, the solution to this problem is with more advanced screening which is hopefully what we’ll see (and is possibly what these discussions with the EU have been about).

Overall, it’s refreshing to see that the DHS and EU seem to have been engaged in productive talks/negotiations over the past few weeks and hopefully this will result in more intel shared across governments and more secure screening procedures eventually put into place. However, as much as I’d love to be optimistic about this ban not coming into effect, I think it’s probably only a matter of time.

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