U.S. Exempts Emirates, Turkish from Electronics Ban

 - July 5, 2017, 10:39 AM
An Emirates Boeing 777-300ER taxis at Dubai International Airport. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by raihans photography)

Emirates Airline and Turkish Airlines have joined Etihad Airways among the growing list of carriers exempt from the ban on large electronic devices in the cabins of airplanes arriving in the U.S. from several Middle Eastern and North African countries. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday lifted the restrictions on Emirates and Turkish after the airlines complied with certain unnamed security measures at their airports, a week after DHS instituted “enhanced” protocols including increased scrutiny of laptop computers at screening points at some 280 airports in 105 countries. The DHS notified Etihad Airways of its exemption on July 2, following what the airline called the successful validation of security measures at the U.S. Preclearance facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport earlier in the day. All Etihad Airways passengers traveling to the U.S. clear immigration and customs at the U.S. preclearance facility in Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The measures instituted by the U.S. on June 28 included enhancing overall passenger screening, the establishment of more preclearance locations, increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas and the expansion of canine screening. The DHS said it would work with so-called stakeholders to ensure the full implementation of the measures “over the next several weeks and months.” Airlines and airports that fail to adopt the new requirements within certain time frames run the risk of the DHS imposing further unnamed security restrictions, said the agency.

At one point the U.S. considered expanding the ban on laptops and other devices larger than a cell phone to flights originating in Europe, but after consultation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other “stakeholders,” it reached a compromise that took the form of the enhanced screening measures. The UK, meanwhile, continues to ban laptops and other larger devices in the cabins of airplanes originating from a list of Middle Eastern and North African countries. The UK directive bans electronic devices larger than a cell phone and applies to airplanes departing from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt. It affects 14 airlines, including six based in the UK.

The U.S. ban, instituted in March only days before the UK ban took effect, most controversially covered Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE, Hamad International Airport in Doha, Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Cairo International Airport, Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Kuwait International Airport and Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca. 

Both the U.S. and UK drew criticism from IATA for a lack of consultation with industry on the measures and their failure to give a reasonable amount of notice. The association later expressed alarm at the possibility of an extension to passengers departing European airports for the U.S.

Safety concerns centered on the fire hazards a concentration of large numbers of lithium-ion batteries in cargo holds can pose. Furthermore, IATA estimated that an expansion of the ban by the U.S. would have resulted in a $1.1 billion annual cost to passengers alone, including $655 million worth of productive time to business travelers, $216 million worth of travel time increases (nine minutes per flight) and $195 million in harm to passenger well-being. Businesses would cancel trips rather than risk losing confidential information in checked laptops, resulting in implications for future investment and business transactions, it asserted.