As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security considers expanding a ban on laptops and other large electronics in the cabins of U.S.-bound commercial flights, business travel groups are urging U.S. officials to give passengers a clear understanding of why a ban is necessary, warning of catastrophic impacts on business travel.
Homeland Security officials briefed U.S. airlines Thursday on aviation security threats and a possible extension of the laptop ban that currently covers flights from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries. Reports citing European security officials suggest the U.S. ban would be expanded to all flights from Europe.
The ban would affect routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on more than 400 daily flights, the Associated Press reported. Many of those are business travelers who rely on their laptops to work during the flight.
“Everyone supports greater security in the face of the complex, persistent threat of terrorism. But this ban disrupts business travelers’ ability to travel and remain productive — adding it to the list of disastrous, cumbersome airline security policies we’ve seen over the years,” Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, said in a statement.
“Travelers deserve better solutions, and we call on our governments to deliver them,” Koch said.
A DHS official said Friday that no decision had been made about an expansion but said it is under consideration.
“DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travelers safe,” spokesman David Lapan said.
The U.S. announced in March that travelers coming to the United States from eight Muslim-majority countries would no longer be allowed to bring personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone onto flights. Instead, the items would have to be placed in checked baggage. That same week, British officials announced a similar restriction. Cellphones and medical devices are not affected by the U.S. ban.
The airlines affected by the U.S. ban have since found a way around the measure, offering free WiFi, tablets and laptops aboard U.S.-bound flights as alternatives for passengers.
Airlines for America, which advocates for its members, including American and United, declined to comment on a possible expansion of a ban that would affect U.S. carriers. But the trade group confirmed the Thursday briefing with airlines and DHS Secretary John F. Kelly. The AP reported that Airlines for America and the three leading U.S. airlines — American, Delta and United — were at the meeting.
“We continue to believe that security and efficiency are not mutually exclusive goals and stand ready to collaborate with DHS and TSA officials to both counter extant risks and to help minimize the impact on the traveling public,” Kathy Grannis Allen, an Airlines for America spokeswoman.
Executives at major U.S. travel groups say they support efforts to make air travel more secure but argue a ban leaves many outstanding questions and officials must give travelers a clearer understanding of why the ban is necessary.
“If there is a legitimate terror threat, the flying public needs to take it seriously and adjust to the new protocols as best they can,” Jonathan Grella, U.S. Travel Association’s executive vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.
“Travelers have been through this kind of thing before and are more resilient than we often think — plus the consequences of a major attack on the transportation system hardly need to be repeated,” Grella said. “Still, it is critical that the U.S. government clearly communicate the details of this new policy and the reasons why it’s needed, continually reassess it to ensure it remains relevant and effective, and actively seek protocols that neutralize threats while minimizing disruption for legitimate business and leisure travelers.”
Koch said many questions still remain from the current ban that affects only certain U.S.-bound flights from the Middle East and North Africa.
“Actions taken by governments to protect the safety of their citizens shouldn’t create more questions than answers — and many questions remain about the initial electronic devices ban that this potential expansion to all of Europe doesn’t answer,” Koch said.
“Why did the U.S. and the U.K. target different countries for the initial ban, and why didn’t other countries follow suit? Why are laptops the target of such a ban despite the United States’ investment in airport security and screening procedures? If the ban is implemented more broadly, will other countries institute their own policies that can further complicate the travel picture? How do these bans increase security when they are easily circumvented, even if all of Europe is subject to them?”