Airlines group urges alternatives to extending electronics ban


The ban would dwarf in size the current one, which affects about 50 flights per day from 10 cities, mostly in the Middle East.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this week that such an expansion would cost passengers $1.1 billion a year due to longer travel times and lost productivity.

Airline groups propose several alternatives to the laptop ban, including more use of machines that detect residue from explosives, turning devices on to demonstrate that they are not bombs, and sorting low-risk passengers from high-risk ones, presumably to let frequent travelers keep their laptops in the cabin. And if the ban gets extended into the summer, it could cause more headaches and prove quite costly.

The new laptop ban would work like the current one from the Middle East, except that it would affect all flights from Europe to the U.S.

Alexandre de Juniac, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, also warned about the concentration of lithium battery-powered devices in a letter to the United States homeland security secretary, John F. Kelly, and European transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc.

According to the Times report, during the meeting homeland security officials shared insights into a developing aviation security threat, including that terrorist groups were pursuing various new strategies that included putting explosives into consumer devices.

There is also the question of the relative safety of keeping in the cargo area a large number of electronics with lithium batteries, which have been known to catch fire.

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USA anti-terrorism officials met for four hours Wednesday in Brussels with their European counterparts who are resisting a proposed expansion of a laptop ban in airline passenger cabins. The ban would add an additional nuisance to the the two-thirds of transatlantic passengers who travel with an electronic device larger than a cell phone.

While IATA's recommendations were intended specifically to forestall any expansion of the current ban, they are also clearly intended as an alternative to the existing US and United Kingdom restrictions.

"I definitely think it will change consumer behavior", said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper, a fare forecasting app. Hopper is planning to warn consumers if their flights would be subject to the ban.

U.S. authorities banned passengers on direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in 8 countries from bringing laptops, tablets.

Michael McCormick, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, said he believes the threat identified by security officials is real, but the laptop ban will hurt business travel, at least in the short term. In addition, baggage in cargo usually goes through a more sophisticated screening process than carry-on bags. Tablets and laptops must be stowed in checked baggage.

At least for now, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the EU/US meetings have ended without a plan to ban laptops on planes. though such a plan could always pop out again in the near future (and, it will nearly certainly happen if there is an airplane bombing).

De Juniac acknowledges that state authorities may need to implement security measures in response to "credible threat intelligence".