If you have been on any international flights since March 2017, or have had any scheduled, you may have heard a rumor that electronics are no longer allowed in an aircraft cabin. For some people, it may seem nothing to worry about, but for those (like me) who have experienced it first-hand, it is a confusing, harrowing and even dangerous situation both personally and professionally.
A quick timeline:
On March 20th, Royal Jordanian Airways tweeted "Following instructions from the concerned US departments, we kindly inform our dearest passengers departing to and arriving from the United States that carrying any electronic or electrical device on board the flight cabins is strictly prohibited."
It is important to note that prior to this, there was no electronics ban to any Middle Eastern country from the US.
After this, however, other airlines noted that they had received intelligence notices from the US suggesting that they implement measures by March 24th that would affect flights in 10 airports within the Middle East -- but only on 8 airlines that serve those locations.
The nature of the ban is itself confusing. All "electronics items larger than a cell phone" are to be confiscated, checked into the cargo area of the aircraft, and can be reclaimed later.
Recently, while traveling on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, I saw this in action. Only my personal laptop, kindle and laptop power cord were taken, leaving me with my external cell phone power packs (li-on) and cell phones.
For others, it was not so clear; I saw noise-cancelling headsets, electric razors, laptops, portable keyboards, external hard drives, etc, taken and placed into anonymous black cases.
As a security professional, this sight alone made me reticent to continue to do business that takes me to the Middle East -- and that may be the entire point of this ban.
For this 11-hour flight, all of the business people on this flight, and hundreds of other flights per day to and from the Middle East, are now separated from their data. If you're like me, you keep it encrypted. However, you have no control over what happens to it while in the care of the airline.
Therefore, for entrepreneurs and business travelers, while this ban is in place, here are my three recommendations for how to survive the ban while keeping your company and client data safe.
1. Keep important files off your computer.
If its something that you have a duty to protect, or is confidential, make sure it is something that you aren't handing over to someone else. Keep client files on an encrypted thumb drive that remains on your person, or in an encrypted cloud storage solution that you always have access to.
2. Travel with as few electronics as possible.
Your cell phone is as powerful as a computer, so for a short trip, you may be able to get away with your phone and an external keyboard. The airline I flew, Turkish, provided all travelers with free WiFi access for the duration of the flight, to allow us to do business anyway.
3. Keep flying.
This is not the fault of the airlines, so please don't cancel your flights or plans. While flying Turkish Airlines, they gave us stellar treatment despite the poor circumstances surrounding the ban.
While I'm hopeful this will be a temporary measure, with these simple steps you'll be able to keep sane while flying.