With the second iteration of its travel ban hung up in court (again), the U.S. government has deployed a different strategy for protecting U.S. airports from terrorists: prohibiting large electronics such as laptops on all flights from certain parts of the Middle East and Africa.
News of this electronics ban was announced Monday in Tweets by a number of the airlines that would have to comply. The ban went into effect at 3 a.m. EDT Tuesday.
Multiple reports, including one in USA Today and another on CNN, indicated that the ban would extend to Kindles, iPads, Android tablets, and other electronics and would apply to airlines with flights originating in a handful of ten specific Middle Eastern and African airports in eight majority-Muslim countries (Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Jidda, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; Dubai, UAE; and Abu Dhabi, UAE, per the New York Times). One of the airports, Abu Dhabi, is one of the 15 airports in the world to employ Department of Homeland Security preclearance techniques. The restrictions do not apply to airport crews. Approximately 50 flights total will be impacted.
Apparently, the restriction will not apply to cell phones or medical devices—at least according to a now-deleted Tweet from Royal Jordanian Airlines.
This entire fiasco began with a Tweet from Royal Jordanian. The missive was published early Monday and indicated to customers that laptops, cameras, DVD players, and other electronic items would be “strictly prohibited” in the cabin on flights to the United States starting March 21.
If passengers brought these items to security, the Tweet said, the items would have to be checked.
A few hours later, Saudi Airlines announced something very similar, noting that devices would be prohibited on its flights starting Wednesday.
When confusion hit a fever pitch, the U.S. government got involved. According to CNN, the Department of Homeland Security said in a written statement, “We have no comment on potential security precautions, but will provide any update as appropriate.”
Additional details and clarification are expected to come later this week.
Interestingly (and perhaps curiously), no U.S.-based airline is impacted by the new rule, since none flies nonstop to or from the Middle East. What’s more, this is not the first time large electronics have been targeted for closer inspection; CNN says that in 2014, fearing increased terrorism, the government temporarily required that all carry-on laptops be turned on in the presence of TSA at an airport checkpoint.
Much like that ban, the new ban is expected to be a short-term, temporary solution. For the sake of business travelers everywhere, let’s hope the rules reopen soon.
UPDATE: Hours after the United States formalized its temporary ban on electronic devices aboard flights from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries, the UK announced its own ban. The UK ban applies to flights coming from only six nations: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.