U.S Laptop Travel Ban
Update: In July of 2017 the U.S. began lifting the laptop ban against middle eastern airlines as they "comply with US security requirements". There has been no clarification of what that means, but it appears that new processes have been implemented to review laptops prior to boarding. This indicates a further twist on the ban, as it indicates the U.S. was trying to stop explosive laptops from being distributed in the U.S. and was not concerned with risks from detonation of devices on incoming flights. We still wonder if these airlines have now agreed to monitor passenger data transmissions during flights.
The U.S. Laptop Travel Ban went in to effect on March 21, 2017. It applies to laptops and tablets on inbound flights to the U.S. from airlines operated by eight predominantly Muslim countries – Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Laptops and tablets on these flights are not allowed in the passenger cabin, but rather must be stored in the baggage compartment prior to departure.
Why We Believe the Ban Wasn't About Flight Safety
While Israel confirmed technological developments that might result in explosives being hidden in laptops and tablets, action has not been taken to extensively limit the threat from laptop explosions. There are a number of reasons why the ban is currently about U.S. protectionism instead of flight security:
The ban applies only to specific airlines and not to countries or individuals. Any passenger flying from Istanbul to New York on U.S Airways can use their laptop during the flight. Those flying the same non-stop route on Turkish Airlines cannot use their laptops. This indicates the U.S. is not concerned with an immediate threat of explosion from these devices, but is concerned with the airline instead.
Explosives are not more likely to evade screening at the 10 airports named in the ban. Airports such as Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai have better screening security than most airports in the world. The Dubai airport has received international recognition as a leader in airport security. It even utilizes retinal scans for boarding. The issue is not airport security with respect to laptops and tablets, but rather these are the 10 airports that are hubs for the 8 airlines that the ban applies to.
The risk to passengers is not lessened by stowing devices. Lithium batteries for these device stored in the cargo hold pose a greater safety risk than if they remained in the passenger cabin.
The risk to passengers is not lessened by limiting the ban to inbound flights. If an explosive device was not detected on an inbound flight, it will not be detected on the outbound flight.
Surveillance - A Primary Reason for the Ban?
Through an agreement with GoGo WiFi, U.S. intelligence agencies can access information on flights with airlines such as British Airways, Aeromexico, American Airlines, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, JTA, United Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Virgin America, Vietnam Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. GoGo has been criticized for allowing intelligence agencies greater access than what they've been requested to provide. The ban helps U.S intelligence expand their surveillance by pressuring in-flight working travelers to switch to airlines that can be monitored. Here are three examples:
On a flight from Istanbul to JFK, travelers who switch from Turkish Airlines to U.S Airways enjoy the same non-stop travel, but their communications can be reviewed.
On a flight from Amman to Detroit via Montreal, travelers who switch from Royal Jordanian Airlines to American Airlines become subject to communication review.
On a flight from Dubai to Seattle, travelers who switch from Emirates to JetBlue become subject to communication review.
Protectionism - A Secondary Reason for the Ban
The laptop travel ban combines perfectly with protectionism. In all 3 examples above, travelers to the United States enjoy added benefits if they travel with airlines that are not from the 8 Muslim airlines affected by the ban. The ban is specifically targeting the income generated from business class travelers on these Muslim-based airlines whose passengers intend to complete a full days work on their flight. The laptop ban gives American companies an economic advantage on inbound flights. When a traveler switches airlines, discounted return flight pricing ensures that they will also be on the desired outbound flight.
How Long Will the U.S Laptop Ban be Around?
Update: The ban was lifted in July of 2017 for Etihad, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian Airways as they implemented screening procedures that met U.S. requirements. The exact steps taken have remained a secret, which fuels our suspicion that surveillance of passenger data transmission might be part of the requirement.