US, UK Ban Electronic Devices on Flights from Middle Eastern Airports (UPDATED)

US, UK Ban Electronic Devices on Flights from Middle Eastern Airports (UPDATED)

Under new security restrictions announced by the Trump administration on Tuesday, passengers flying directly to the US from ten designated airports in in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey will no longer be allowed to carry laptops, tablets, or other electronic devices larger than a smartphone on board with them and must check these items instead, until further notice.

According to a US Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman cited by Reuters, the new restrictions are unrelated to President Donald Trump’s controversial order temporarily barring citizens of certain Muslim countries from entering the US, which is currently in the middle of a court challenge. Rather, they come in response to intelligence that terrorists may attempt to target US-bound airplanes on these routes by “smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” US officials told CNN Money.

The affected airports, which have until Friday to comply with the new rule, include:

  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Amman, Jordan
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Direct flights to the US depart from these airports about 50 times a day, Reuters adds, operated by Egypt Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. American carriers are unaffected by the ban as no US airlines fly these routes, but US citizens traveling on these flights will be required to comply with the restriction as well as foreign nationals. The DHS has not said how long the ban will remain in place.

Hours later, the UK announced that it, too, would ban carry-on electronics, including oversized smartphones, on inbound flights from a different set of airports in the greater Middle East. CNN Money reports:

The affected airlines are: British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook, Thomson, Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Egyptair, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air and Saudia.

The U.S. and U.K. regulations will affect different points of departure. The new restrictions on direct flights to the U.K. include flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. But some airports covered by the U.S. ban — Abu Dhabi and Dubai (UAE), Doha (Qatar), Kuwait City and Casablanca (Morocco) — are not affected by the U.K. restrictions.

Some of the affected airlines appear not to have received any prior notice that the new rule was coming, Reuters also notes:

United Arab Emirates carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways told Reuters on Tuesday they had not been advised of any new restrictions on carrying electronic devices on U.S. flights. Sources at EgyptAir also said the carrier had not been advised of any new restrictions and that a flight to New York had departed earlier on Tuesday with passengers allowed to carry on electronic devices as normal.

The effects of these restrictions are likely to be felt most acutely by business travelers who usually work from their devices on long flights. The ban affects some of the world’s most heavily trafficked airports, including the busiest of them all, Dubai. These airports service major Middle Eastern hubs of international business and finance, and are stopover points for many travelers en route between the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Also, as BBC analyst Frank Gardner pointed out, the rule almost exclusively affects countries with close ties to the US, including wealthy Gulf countries whose business communities have extensive transatlantic connections.

The UK ban may in fact prove more deleterious to business travel, as flights between the UK and the Middle East are more frequent (and more likely to offer passengers Internet access) than transatlantic flights to the US. In the immediate term, meanwhile, the restrictions are likely to cause some confusion at the airports in question. “The biggest immediate impact may be on check-in times,” Deena Kamel and Michael Sasso explain at Bloomberg:

While toiletries and other items found to exceed limits on liquids that may be carried through security barriers are usually thrown away, expensive laptops would need to be transferred to the hold or somehow stored at the airport for collection later.

“Nobody will be willing to part from their laptop or tablet on a long-haul flight, especially if you’ve got sensitive data” Martin said. “But if you want to go to the U.S. you have to comply with the laws.” For most people that will mean putting up with hours without their laptop rather switching to a routing that could take much longer, he said.

Organizations with staff who travel any of these routes for business purposes should anticipate that these employees will not be able to work on their laptops or tablets while in transit to the US or UK, and may want to consider alternate travel arrangements for them that avoid the affected routes.