On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security ordered a ban on electronic devices in the passenger cabins of nine airlines flying into the U.S. from eight Middle Eastern countries.
While some critics reflexively attacked the ban as an irrational order from the Trump administration, it was soon revealed that solid intelligence of potential threats motivated the ban, and other countries began following America’s lead.
CNN lists the ten affected airports as: Cairo, Egypt; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Istanbul, Turkey; Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; and Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Nine airlines are affected: Egyptair, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines.
A senior U.S. official told CNN that if any of these airlines choose not to comply, “we will work with the FAA to pull their certificate and they will not be allowed to fly to the United States.” Most of the listed airlines appear to be complying with the order. In fact, Royal Jordanian Airlines announced the ban in a Twitter message before the U.S. government issued its official statement.
Sky News estimates the order will apply to about 50 flights per day.
The ban prevents passengers from carrying electronic devices larger than cell phones on inbound flights from the listed airports, with exceptions made for medical devices. Outbound flights to those destinations are not affected.
“The US Government is concerned about terrorists’ ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years. Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” DHS said in a statement.
Sky News reports Turkey promptly objected to the order. “We particularly emphasize how this will not benefit the passenger and that reverse steps or a softening should be adopted,” said Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan.
“Officials said the new directive was not based on information pointing to a credible, specific threat of an imminent attack. Instead, it reflected a new consensus among American intelligence agencies that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or the Al Qaeda franchise in Yemen are increasingly trying to find ways to smuggle explosive devices hidden in electronic devices, like laptops,” writes the New York Times.
These officials did not say how long the ban was expected to remain in effect, or whether it might be expanded to include other airports. The Washington Post, however, talked to a DHS spokesman who said the directive will be in effect until October 14 and may be extended for another year beyond that if “the evaluation of the threat remains the same.”
The Times decided to quote irate Egyptian lawmaker and journalist Osama Sharshar claiming that President Trump issued the order to “please the right-wing extremists in America,” even though New York Times writers were already well aware that other countries are following suit, beginning with the United Kingdom.
Hours after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced its ban on electronic devices, the U.K. issued a similar order covering all inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. The U.K. order covers fewer countries but more airports, and 14 airlines in total. The Washington Post reports that the British ban also covers “some cellphones.”
The Post indicates that the decision to issue this ban was made during a meeting on aviation security measures held by Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday and was based on “the same intelligence the U.S. relies on,” according to a May spokesman.
On Tuesday afternoon, the BBC reported that Canada is also “considering restrictions on electronics in the cabins of planes.”
Aviation Security editor-in-chief Philip Baum told the BBC he thought the device ban was tantamount to an admission by American and British authorities that their screening procedures for devices such as laptop computers are inadequate. He also suggested the ban could be counterproductive because checking such electronics into the luggage hold of an aircraft makes them more challenging to inspect.