Destroying the global economy, one Electronics Ban at a time

sunset LH 747-8i lufthansa

Yesterday’s “leak” of an electronics ban on Royal Jordanian flights into the United States was just the tip of the iceberg. It quickly became clear that it was not only Royal Jordanian or Jordan affected by the ban, though details were slow to emerge. We now know that nine airlines serving the United States from ten airports are affected.

The US DHS explains the rule thus:

The enhancement in security will require that all personal electronic devices (PEDs) larger than a cell phone or smart phone be placed in checked baggage. These items will no longer be allowed to be carried onto aircraft at 10 select airports where flights are departing for the United States. Approved medical devices may be brought into the cabin after additional screening.

The affected airports and airlines are:

  • Casablanca (CMN) – Royal Air Maroc
  • Amman (AMM) – Royal Jordanian
  • Kuwait City (KWI) – Kuwait Airlines
  • Istanbul (IST) – THY Turkish Airlines
  • Doha (DOH) – Qatar Airways
  • Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Etihad
  • Dubai (DXB) – Emirates
  • Cairo (CAI) – EgyptAir
  • Jeddah (JED) – Saudia
  • Riyadh (RUH) – Saudia

Airlines have 96 hours to implement the new policy from the official announcement date of 8a EDT on 21 March 2017; DHS is not mandating how that happens, only that it be in place by Saturday morning. DHS also makes it clear that the airports involved could change at its whim. As currently published the rule affects just under 60 daily flights representing roughly 15,000-20,000 daily passengers inbound to the United States (most flights are on 777-300ER or A380s with 300-400 seats). That’s a lot of laptops and tablets and cameras and e-books suddenly flying in the hold compartment of airplanes and a lot of pissed off passengers.

Read More: Impact of electronics ban on airline IFEC considered

The United Kingdom followed suit later on Tuesday, announcing similar policies but covering different airports and airlines. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait and Casablanca are exempt from the UK ban while Tunisia and Lebanon are added; those two countries do not offer non-stop flights to the USA so that may explain their absence on the US list. Unlike the US rules which affect no US-flagged carriers the UK version will see six of its airlines impacted by the new rules.

Is it even safe?

There are many rules governing batteries carried in the hold of passenger aircraft. And no doubt you’ll read that carrying lithium ion batteries as cargo on commercial flights is a violation. Fortunately checked bags are not considered cargo in this context and the batteries generally are permitted to be carried. Here’s what the FAA has to say:

FAA policies on lithium ion batteries in checked bags mean this new rule isn't completely a disaster, just mostly one.
FAA policies on lithium ion batteries in checked bags mean this new rule isn’t completely a disaster, just mostly one.

In short, most devices powered by such batteries are permitted in checked bags. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good idea, either from a fire risk or a theft risk perspective. But it is absolutely permitted by FAA and ICAO rules.

On the fire risk front there have been a few incidents in recent months of electronic devices catching fire in the cabin. Typically those are traced back to issues with the batteries. And typically they are quickly addressed by the cabin crew when an incident occurs. If that were to happen in the checked baggage hold the ability to quickly and directly respond is much lower. There are fire suppression systems installed but the risks are higher. But such batteries fly in the cargo hold as part of checked bags all the time. It is a slight increase in risk but not necessarily one that reaches a tipping point.

Read More: Security experts question impact of carry-on electronics ban

That said, it is unclear that removing these items from passengers’ possession in the cabin truly changes the security profile for carrying them on board. All bags are scanned for explosives and a timer trigger is not all that complicated relative to a manual one. Put another way, it is unclear exactly what the threat profile here is that the new policy seeks to address. And that makes it much harder to deliver improved security.

A Muslim Ban in Costume?

Does this electronics ban simply replace the twice failed Presidential Executive Order to block immigration from a limited subset of countries? On the surface that is an easy conclusion to draw.

And that was an early take I had on the issue as well. The skeptic in me still believes that is a very likely factor in implementing the rule. That said, the willingness of the UK to go along with the policy suggests to me that there might be more to it. And in the hours since the policy was first announced more and more sources are suggesting there might be a specific threat related to batteries and Al Qaeda. Though none are explaining how putting those battery explosives in the hold makes it a safer experience.

Economic Warfare

The different countries affected by the US and UK versions on the ban – specifically Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi – raise another angle on the policy that must be considered.

Three US airlines have been pressuring the US Government to take up their economic fight with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. While US authorities have been unwilling to directly act on the Open Skies issues to date this move – and especially with the absence of UK action on those same airports – looks a lot like it is economically and politically motivated, not a safety issue.

Even for the destinations not served by US carriers the move does push more traffic on to joint venture partners or to other, more friendly countries. Though to say that Qatar is not a friendly country to the USA is one of the more ridiculous assertions one could make these days given the close military ties.

Another consideration is the Air Transport Agreement between the USA and UAE. Article 7, Section 6 suggests that when deviation from commonly accepted security principles occurs the two countries should try to fix things within 15 days before potential actions such as unilateral changes to policies. There is an exception for emergencies but it is unclear if the US chose to even try to pursue bilateral adjustments to policies in this case, though most indications imply no.

6. When a Party has reasonable grounds to believe that the other Party has departed from the aviation security provisions of this Article, the aeronautical authorities of that Party may request immediate consultations with the aeronautical authorities of the other Party. Failure to reach a satisfactory agreement within 15 days from the date of such request shall constitute grounds to withhold, revoke, limit, or impose conditions on the operating authorization and technical permissions of an airline or airlines of that Party. When required by an emergency, a Party may take interim action prior to the expiry of 15 days.

Even if the economic and political angles are not the primary factors it is hard to ignore them in the context of some of the additional details we’ve seen thus far.

Other Inconsistencies

The DHS FAQ on the issue indicates that the airlines were “notified on March 21st at 8:00 a.m. EDT.” Royal Jordanian announced its compliance with that policy 20 hours prior to the notification time. Saudia also indicated it was affected around the same time. Perhaps 8a is simply the time when the 96-hour implementation clock started, which is fine, but saying that airlines were notified at one point when it is clear they knew – and implemented the policy requirements – sooner is a strange place to be.

And in the end it probably doesn’t really matter as the US clearly was going to do whatever it wanted anyways. The impact on some 20-30,000 daily passengers across multiple airlines and countries will be massive. And the impact to the global economy will be as well. This is not just tourists or refugees or business travelers. It is the whole, interconnected system that works together (even with a bit of friction among members) to create and support jobs in an industry that is core to many individuals and many countries. Crushing the tourism industry has follow-on impact in engineering and manufacturing and banking and real estate and farming and many, many other areas.

The inconsistencies in the implementation and threat model seem to belie any useful justification of such.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. 1st thoughts:
    1 Trump’s Yemen raid now “valid”
    2 Covert Muslim ban
    3 Protectionist angle achieved

  2. 2/2
    4 If longterm ME3 cancel Boeing ordrs
    5 Boeing sales plunge & cut jobs
    6 Global tit4tat protectionism & econ. slump take hold

  3. Forcing passengers on 50 flts/day to check laptops/tablets is going to ‘destroy the global economy’ – give me a break!

  4. Also UK is in strange times 2. Right wing politics taking hold & no legitimate opposition party. Things may not be as they seem.

  5. Trump is making a mockery and a disgrace of your country. And most of you do NOTHING about it. Sad!

  6. To me, this seems like a covert effort to shift Americans off the ME3. This could have a huge negative impact on Boeing, and positive impact on Airbus. As as the UK going along, well BA has been highly affected by the ME3.

    1. The UK version does not impact Qatar or the UAE so the ME3 are not affected there.

    2. And it affects flights on British Airways itself – I’ve personally taken the IST-LHR flight

  7. I think it’s a little early to determine what all the facts are for this. It’s actually a no win situation for the USA or UK government. There must be some sort of Intel that is prompting this even if this is just an opportunity to take advantage of it. So let’s say that nothing was done about the threat and an aircraft gets blown up. We would find out later that we had information and should have acted on it. On the other hand we put a ban in place and nothing happens. It just opens up more biased criticism. Bottom line to me is that the ban could have a major financial impact but then again so would a terrorist attack. Remember the stock market the first day it opened after 9-11?
    Imagine that the USA obtains Intel that there is an imminent threat. We run this up the chain and rush to put this ban in place. We then would share this with our allies like the UK who would then react to protect themselves as well. The timeline is in place. We’ll really know more on this if other countries like say Canada, France, etc. also move to ban them. Like this story relates
    Again this is a no win situation for anyone. The terrorist may be thwarted by these actions but they still win on the terror part, causing us to be afraid.
    I’m going to find out more next week as I travel to Turkey and Israel over the next few weeks. I mostly afraid of taking my laptop and then running into expanded issues on the way back forcing me to check a bag and to check it with my laptop inside.

    1. Agree that we’re early in the “what are the facts?” stage but mostly because the authorities appear to have botched the implementation so badly. Why was it “announced” at 8a today when it was public info 20 hours prior? And why, if there is a credible and imminent threat, are we waiting 96 hours to enforce restrictions. When the liquids ban went into effect in 2006 it was not 96 hours after the announcement was made. There was a clear plan, a clear set of rules and it was enforced. That’s not to say it was a perfectly smooth implementation (we were on our honeymoon at the time and had some impressively bad experiences in Manila associated with it due to knitting needles and hair sticks) but the liquids part was pretty well handled there.

      At that time the threat was also explained as part of the implementation. Here the details are coming in dribs and drabs and generally not from named official sources. That’s not a good way to inspire confidence in the security operations. And the inconsistent implementation from two partners who are theoretically sharing much of the same intelligence data raises some very real questions.

      Maybe it is a real threat. But if that is the case I’m disappointed at the horrible implementation and short-sightedness of the suggestion that putting a bunch of electronics in the hold – when faux electronics are considered the threat – is a good idea.

  8. I suspect that the threat is real but, for the US, is being embellished for protectionist purposes.

    But the reality is that the erratic, but very public, nature of the US approach to permitting brown-skinned tourists is doing far more damage to tourism, and the strident calls for protectionism is doing far more damage to US exporting business.

  9. So baldfaced, with AUH (precleared) on the list. So they don’t trust American customs agents either?

    1. Nor the security operation that is supposed to operate to US-specifications. It is a (very, very bad) joke.

    1. That’s the same raid that previously uncovered no useful intel. And some officials are still denying that there was new actionable intel that caused this policy change versus long-term theories.

      At best it is a botched implementation of actions to prevent real risk. But that seems unlikely right now from where I’m sitting.

  10. Well, it is clear what water cooler you are drinking from — a senior military officer testified that the raid uncovered very useful intelligence, and this is probably part of the haul.

    However, since you are close-minded, it matters not what one writes about, even though, your hero, Schiff, endorsed the ban — unless you are going to get up and scream at him during one of his townhalls because he is not a pure enough leftist for your tastes.

    1. The outcome of that raid has been reported multiple different ways. Just like the justifications for this action.

      If the intel really exists that way then why are the US and UK reacting with different rules? If the intel is new and represents an urgent threat why are we waiting 96 hours to implement the changes?

      I noted several times I’m willing to believe that there is a threat. But I do not believe that’s the only thing going on here and I do not believe that it is being handled well from any angle.

      As for my water, it comes straight from the tap. I’m all good there.

  11. By the way, the Daily Beast is a left of center news site, but apparently not far enough left to entertain your conspiracy theories.

  12. I’ll give you credit for at least keeping my comments posted — most of your compatriots will not brook any sort of criticism.

    1. Hey Hadley,

      I guess my thought process is: that if the current POTUS and his administration didn’t have a really long, documented history of embellishing, distorting, and (just soooo many times) absolutely lying about facts then I’d be more likely to take them all more seriously. As it is, that sordid history taints literally everything they say, leak, or report. Kinda like during Nixon’s administration, where at some point we all as a country just quit believing anything he said.

      It really has nothing to do with whether I’m right, left, or whatever. The current POTUS’ history of lying before, during, and after the election has predictable repercussions. That the POTUS didn’t think of this repercussion as he was lying right and left about provable things is another reason many Americans see him as unfit for the office.

      I’ll bet you know which kid’s story I’m thinking about!

      1. Must be that story about the attack on the USA’s Libyan embassy being prompted by an ex-pat Egyptian Copt’s video criticizing the founder of Islam as opposed to being a very real terrorist attack made with no such provocation other than the USA representing a different values system — say one not rooted in the Middle Ages??

        Yeah, that POTUS sent his UN Ambassador out to blatantly lie about that one on many Sunday talk shows, as well as his Secretary of State doing the same.

        The upshot to those fabrications, you may ask?

        That POTUS elevated his then UN Ambassador to be his National Security Advisor, and the other individual became the Democrat party’s standard bearer.

        Therefore, do not start throwing about issues concerning the distortion of facts unless you are prepared to receive like incoming fire — parry vs. parry = Touche!

  13. US drive for force global trade to exclude US in growth. AUS already considering ditching US for China. US thinks it is the pretty girl and ball does not realize is the fat guy no one wants to dance with.

  14. You really should not quote Linda Sarsour , a well known anti-Semite, unless you share her sickening views.

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