If only it was April 1st…
We have a new addition to the seemingly ceaseless string of poorly thought out and implemented travel orders emanating from the current White House that promises to make your travel experiences less enjoyable.
Electronic devices banned on flights to the US by Middle Eastern carriers
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently issued an order banning electronics larger than a cell phone from being brought into the aircraft cabin on direct flights to the US from 10 airports in 8 Middle Eastern and African countries. Apparently, while flying nonstop to the US is a threat, CNN reported that an aviation official said that “they believe a threat to the U.S. would be negated if a passenger transferred through a secondary city with additional and more trustworthy screening procedures.”
Considering that they did not specify a list of cities with “more trustworthy screening procedures”, I take it to mean that every other city on earth is better for airport security than the ten airports on the list. This is of course not true.
Having personally flown through Abu Dhabi (AUH) multiple times, I thought that there security was on par with airport security in the US and the fact that they have a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Preclearance facility which, according to the US government’s own CPB website, means that they have already been “carefully evaluated based on the current and future capacity to host CBP Preclearance operations and aviation security screening meeting TSA standards.” [emphasis added]
As The Points Guy points out in his criticism of the ban here, this bit of foolishness seems to specifically target all three of the Middle Eastern airlines that US legacy carriers are perennially lobbying the government to block from competing with US airlines.
Six days ago Business Insider published an article entitled The nastiest feud in the airline business seems tailor-made for Trump – but he won’t touch it which summarized the feud between the US and Middle Eastern carriers; “Since 2015, American, Delta, and United Airlines (the US3) have been complaining about competition from three huge and fast-growing Middle East-based rivals — Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways (the ME3). They continue, “The largest US airlines want the White House to intervene in the expansion of three huge Middle Eastern rivals, which they say is hurting business and jobs.” While the article speculated that the White House would likely not intervene, this haphazard electronics ban might suggest otherwise.
Gary Leif at View From The Wing has done a solid job covering the ongoing efforts by US carriers to ban ME3 carriers from operating within the US, including Delta’s specific calls for the US government to restrict Gulf airlines from lowering airfares. He also did a nice job laying out the case that, despite the claim by the US3 that it was impossible to compete with the ME3 because they receive government subsidies, the US airlines are actually more heavily subsidized than their Middle Eastern competitors.
As if it wasn’t enough for the US3 to lobby the federal government to protect against lower airfares and make hypocritical claims about subsidies (never mind that they aren’t trying to ban flights from their partner airlines in Asia who also share lower labor costs and government subsidies as well) they also went for an emotional angle to try and justify their calls for protectionism. The above video is of Delta CEO Richard Anderson saying Middle Eastern carriers should be limited because of 9/11/01 terror attacks.
In case you don’t have time for the full video, here is the quote:
“It’s a great irony to have the United Arab Emirates from the Arabian peninsula talk about that given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11 which came from terrorists from the Arabian peninsula that caused us to go through a massive restructuring.”
As the Washington post reminds us, “U.S. airlines are not affected by the ban because none offer direct U.S.-bound flights from the affected airports.” What a remarkable coincidence that this ban lines up so well with the lobbying efforts by the US3 to hobble their ME3 competition…
Britain has followed the US’s lead and decided to implement their own ban on electronic devices on flights originating from six predominantly-Muslim countries. They cited an attempt from al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist terrorist group operating out of Southern Somalia and Yemen, to bring down a jet in Somalia using a laptop bomb as well as intelligence from the US as justification for the ban.
Just so we can see clearly how well this ban will address problems with terrorist groups operating in Yemen and Somalia here are lists of the countries involved in the ban.
Here is a list of countries Britain has banned:
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia
Here is a list of countries the US has banned:
Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and the UAE, including Dubai
Here is a list of countries that al-Shabaab is active in:
Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia.
There is no need to compile a list of countries that overlap between the banned countries and the countries that al-Shabaab operates in because there would be no countries on that list.
There is no overlap between the countries the US and Britain have banned and the countries that al-Shabaab operates in.
As long as we are on the subject of how Al-Shabaab carried out their attack on the Somalian jet, the laptop was given to the man AFTER he had passed through security. AFTER!
Furthermore, they believe the bomb in the laptop was on a timer. Meaning that if the airport employee had instead placed it in the suspects checked bag it would have likely had the same effect. In other words, the problem was that there was a bomb on the plane, not that the bomb was in the cabin. This electronics ban does nothing new to prevent such a possibility.
As if that wasn’t enough, the ban may actually make traveling more dangerous. According to this Gaurdian report, “Fires in jetliner holds are extinguished automatically by halon-gas extinguishers, which are effective only against open flame and useless against overheating metal, according to a report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).” In 2014 the ICAO’s dangerous goods panel issued a report on lithium-ion batteries cautioning that “[F]ires in flight involving certain types and quantities of lithium metal batteries have the potential to result in an uncontrolled fire leading to a catastrophic failure of the airframe”. Unlike jetliner holds, most cabins are equipped with fire blankets and extinguishers that are effective against metal fires. I’m seriously having a hard time understanding how anything about this ban is aimed at increasing safety and security for passengers.
In Practical Terms:
In practical terms this means several unpleasant things for those on direct flights to the US from the Middle East:
- Your laptop will be placed in your checked bag, which you won’t have access to until your destination.
- Airlines don’t provide coverage against damage for your electronics placed in your checked bag.
- You won’t be able to do any work that involves your computer on any flights to the US operated by carriers on the list.
- A lost bag will mean a lost computer.
- A baggage delay may leave you without access to your laptop for days.
- Passengers traveling with laptops may be forced to pay to check their bags.
I’m not sure about you, but I certainly am not excited about the prospect of putting my laptop in my checked bag. In fact, in the hundreds of thousands of miles that I have traveled, I have never once entertained the idea of placing my laptop in my checked bag.
In summary, an electronics ban was initiated, with 96-hours given for complete compliance, for airlines that are in competition with US legacy carriers. This follows years of intense lobbying by US legacy carriers to have the US government initiate non-competitive measures against these carriers to protect US carriers against competition. The supposed threat that the ban is responding to happened in an area not covered by the ban and was carried out in a way that the ban would not have prevented or even interfered with. I would go so far as to say that this ban isn’t about protecting passengers as much as it’s about protecting US legacy carriers against competition from Middle Eastern airlines.
Safety is a very real concern when traveling and the government enacting policy aimed at suppressing competition to bolster US airline profits and then claiming it is for your security does a disservice to all travelers.
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