As CEO of Ovation Travel Group, I am often asked about the latest travel news and industry developments. Depending on what's happening at any given moment, this could mean a wide range of topics, from the coolest new travel app and "smart" technology suitcases to more serious topics, such as safety and risk management procedures. I consult a variety of industry and news sources on a daily basis, and these days, there's one over-arching topic in all the headlines: security. Specifically, the so called "laptop ban," and what types of personal electronic devices are subject to screening and enhanced procedures at security checkpoints in airports. Not only that, but the laptop ban has developed and changed quite a bit over the last few months, and is continuing to do so. These issues are complex and can be confusing, so I've put together a chart, timeline, and primer to break down where we were in March and how things have developed through to today:
So how did we get to this point?
March--Implementing the Laptop Ban. On March 21, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced changes to security procedures in response to intelligence that "indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items." For passengers at 10 select airports where flights depart for the United States from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.A.E., all personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone (including laptops, tablets, e-readers, and cameras) were no longer allowed to be carried on board. Instead, as of March 25, they needed to be placed in checked baggage, regardless of the passenger's citizenship or enrollment status in a trusted traveler program. Meanwhile, the U.K. issued a similar ban on electronics aboard flights from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey, which also went into effect on March 25.
May--Possible Expansion. In May, reports began to emerge that the DHS was considering expanding the ban to include flights from Europe. Following a meeting with European Union officials in Brussels on May 17, the DHS and European Commission released a joint statement in which they "reaffirmed their commitment to continue working closely together on aviation security generally." The following day, the DHS released a statement on Twitter saying, "While the Secretary has not made a final decision on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins to additional last points of departure, it is still under consideration. DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes to our security requirement when necessary to keep air travelers safe."
June--New Security Measures. On June 28, U.S. Homeland Security secretary John Kelly announced a program of new security measures to be applied to all commercial flights entering the U.S. from abroad. Kelly noted, "We cannot play international whack-a-mole with each new threat. Instead, we must put in place new measures across the board to keep the traveling public safe and make it harder for terrorists to succeed." The new measures will include heightened screening of personal electronic devices, increased security protocols around passenger areas, and deploying advanced technology and overall enhanced security. The statement also encouraged more airports to establish pre-clearance locations, where passengers would go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening prior to boarding. If these requirements are implemented, the need to expand onboard laptop bans would potentially be dispelled.
July--Airport and Airline Response. Since the DHS announcement roughly three weeks ago, it seems that not a day has passed without news regarding an airline and airport working to implement the above in order to get the laptop ban lifted. On July 2, Etihad Airways became the first to announce they had been granted approval to allow electronic devices inside cabins of aircraft on U.S.-bound flights from Abu Dhabi. DHS spokesperson David Lapan stated, "We commend Etihad for working swiftly to implement these additional measures[....] Their efforts are a model for both foreign and domestic airlines looking to adopt the new measures." While the specific measures undertaken have remained confidential--with the exception of the aforementioned pre-clearance centers--it appears that Etihad has indeed served as a model for others. Later that week, the U.S. lifted the ban on U.S.-bound flights from Emirates, Turkish, and Qatar airlines, while last week it was lifted on EgyptAir, Kuwait Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, and Royal Air Maroc. At this point, Saudi Arabian Airlines is the only airline still affected at Saudi Arabia's King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED) and King Khalid International Airport (RUH). They have stated they expect to have the ban lifted July 19.
Today. While it appears the particulars of the March 25 laptop ban may soon be obsolete (at least in the U.S., as the U.K. ban is still fully in place as of this writing), there is still quite a bit going on in terms of airport security. In the June 28 announcement, the DHS said they would be rolling out new measures "both seen and unseen" over the course of many months. More details have not yet been provided. Similarly, despite the fact that the laptop ban has been lifted, the previously affected airports have new and complex security procedures in place that are being monitored by the DHS. Qatar Airways, for example, offered the following new guidelines: "Arrive at Hamad International Airport in sufficient extra time to allow for the enhanced security screening to be conducted at the departure gate [....] Have your carry-on PEDs conveniently accessible [....] Consider packing in your check-in baggage all PEDs that you do not intend using in-flight." Although written for a specific airport, I would argue these are good, common sense guidelines for travel to any destination. That, and be sure to monitor the news as these security measures develop.