US ‘Likely’ To Include UK In In-Flight Laptop Ban

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is “likely” to include the UK and the rest of Europe in its ban on carrying larger electronic devices, such as laptops, in cabin luggage, a spokesman said.

The move would extend a March ban put into place by the US on direct flights into the countries from airports in 10 Middle Eastern nations. The UK shortly afterward instituted similar restrictions.

‘Likely’ extension

The existing ban affects electronics larger than a typical mobile phone, including cameras, tablets and e-book readers as well as laptops.

It was established in response to fears that militants could build a bomb into such electronics, which could pass through the security checks applied to cabin luggage but could be more easily detected by the screening applied to luggage placed in the hold.

Reports citing unnamed former officials with the US’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have said discussion of the ban dated back to a failed attempt to down an airliner in Somalia in February of last year. In that incident, a bomb concealed inside a laptop that had passed through airport security detonated inside the cabin of an airliner shortly after takeoff.

DHS spokesman David Lapan said the agency had not yet decided whether to extend the ban, according to a number of reports. “We’ll likely expand the restrictions,” he told the New York Times.

Situation under review

“No final decisions have been made on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins; however, it is under consideration,” the DHS said in a statement. “DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travellers safe.”

The TSA issued a similarly worded statement.

Government officials have been meeting with US airlines on a nearly weekly basis to discuss how such a ban might be implemented and plan to do so again on Thursday, according to reports.

The extension of the ban would aim to address concerns that militants travelling from the Middle East with laptop bombs could connect to a US-bound flight from Europe rather than flying directly, according to an unnamed senior US airline official cited by The Times.

Safety concerns

Such a move would cause serious disruption for travellers, an issue Middle Eastern airlines have sought to ease since March by allowing individuals to continue using their electronic devices until they reach the gate.

Staff then pack and check electronics at the gate, under procedures introduced by several airlines, making the devices less vulnerable to being stolen from standard checked baggage.

Another, more serious issue is that placing large numbers of laptops in planes’ cargo holds could risk increased danger from fires caused by their lithium-ion batteries, since such a fire in the hold would be difficult to put out.

Figures released by the US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded 33 incidents of fire emergencies during flights caused by personal electronics devices last year, including three involving laptops and two caused by tablets.

In January the US presidential administration issued an order barring individuals holding passports from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, but the original order and a second version have both met with legal challenges that mean they are not currently in force.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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