Proposed Laptop Travel Ban Would Wreak Havoc on Business Travelers

NEWS ANALYSIS: Executives assert that the Trump administration’s plan to ban laptops, tablets and e-readers from aircraft cabins would impair their productivity significantly and cost billions in lost productivity.

Airline Laptop Ban

A current proposal from the Department of Homeland Security to mandate that large electronic devices be relegated to checked luggage is facing stiff resistance from airlines and business travelers.

Under the proposal, travelers with electronic devices larger than a cell phone would be required to carry them as checked luggage. Depending on the airline, those devices may either be placed in each passenger’s luggage, or the airline may offer secure containers at the gate.

While the proposed ban is still in the proposal stage, it could go into effect at any time. U.S. officials have begun meeting with European Union representatives in Brussels on May 17, and will continue their meetings in Washington the following week.

The proposed ban is similar to one that began in March that prohibited laptops and other large electronics from passenger cabins between certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa.

That ban has resulted in a significant reduction in travel between those countries and the U.S., according to a report by Emirates Airlines. That airline has already cut back on its flights to the U.S. because of the laptop ban.

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.

The ban raises a series of concerns that so far have not been addressed by the Department of Homeland Security, most notably large lithium-ion batteries that are currently not allowed in cargo holds by many airlines because of their propensity to catch fire.

Such a fire caused the crash of a UPS 747 cargo plane in Dubai in 2010. The Federal Aviation Administration has recommended that US airlines ban such batteries from cargo holds, as has the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) at the United Nations. The ICAO ban on carrying lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft went into effect in January, 2016.

But even if a DHS ban or large computers from passenger cabins could comply with the ICAO rules, it still faces enormous opposition from travelers. “It’s a disaster,” said Vijay Aggarwal, CEO of xCelor, who travels extensively between Europe and the U.S.

“For me, productivity is key,” Aggarwal said. “You sleep with your laptop, you wake up with your laptop. You’re connected to your laptop.” He said that the laptop ban would effectively put a 12-hour hole in his work day with every flight where it was in effect.

“What’s the point of TSA PreCheck?” he wondered. Precheck is a program run by the TSA that lets pre-cleared passengers bypass some of the more obtrusive security screenings at airports.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Victor Robert Garza, a military researcher from Monterey, Calif. "We've spent billions over the years [on air travel security] and I'm now expected to be on a twelve plus hour flight without my laptop or e-reader? Utterly ridiculous.”

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...