Executives at two major U.S. travel groups say they support efforts to make air travel more secure, but say U.S. officials must give travelers a clearer understanding of why they have banned passengers from carrying personal electronics on certain U.S.-bound flights from eight Muslim-majority nations.
The ban, officially announced Tuesday, prohibits passengers traveling from 10 airports in the eight countries from bringing laptops, tablets and other portable electronic devices on board with them when they fly. Fliers can still travel with these items, but they must be packed in their checked baggage
“The American travel community supports efforts to make flying more secure,” said Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for the U.S. Travel Association. “We urge the federal government to make every effort to minimize disruption to legitimate travelers by clearly and quickly articulating the details of the new policy to enforcement personnel and the flying public. Even with security as a justification, it does not absolve authorities of the responsibility to communicate.”
Initial news of the ban was met with questions and confusion after Royal Jordanian Airlines made the announcement via Twitter on Monday. It wasn’t until Tuesday that American officials responded, announcing the new restrictions. The ban does not include cellphones or medical devices. The ban went into effect on Tuesday; airlines have been given 96 hours to comply.
Britain followed the U.S. in announcing its own ban on electronic devices.
Michael W. McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer at the Global Business Travel Association said his organization supports the restrictions, but cautioned that the new rules could lead to declines in business travel. The industry already is reeling from the impact of the Trump administration’s earlier efforts to ban travelers from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. A revised version of that travel ban is currently on hold as it works its way through the courts.
While the device ban is more limited, it also raises concerns among travelers.
“Not allowing [passengers] to bring their devices on the plane cuts productivity, taking away time that they can be getting business done,” McCormick said. “Many business travelers also prefer to keep their devices close for security purposes because they may contain sensitive company information.”
Nearly half (49 percent) of business travelers prefer to stay connected and get work done while flying, according to the GBTA.
Grella, of the U.S. Travel Association, said that the hope is that U.S. officials will continue to reassess such decisions to ensure they remain “. . . relevant and effective in the ever-shifting threat environment.”
“We continue to hope that highly visible changes to security protocols in the future will be accompanied by a clear message that the government’s intent is not to suppress, but to secure travel, and that legitimate international business and leisure travelers remain welcomed and valued by the United States,” he said.
Travelers are willing to take steps to ensure they can travel safety, McCormick said. But long-term restrictions could have serious consequences.
“Clearly security comes first,” McCormick said. “Safety comes first. But we also want to make sure that we can continue to move the economy forward and allow business travelers to move through the system effectively. All of the combined actions are creating uncertainty about the conditions on which you can travel.”
Spending by global business travelers topped $1.3 trillion in 2016, and is projected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2020, according to McCormick.
“For the long term you would hope that we can return to a normal environment for business travelers,” McCormick said.