Laptop ban on worldwide flights into the USA still being discussed

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Airline association IATA has called on the European Commission and the U.S. government to adopt additional airport safety measures rather than expand the current, controversial ban on personal electronic devices (PEDs) in the cabin of flights from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

The proposed electronics ban would have created logisitical chaos on the world's busiest air travel corridor.

In a recent open letter the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) warned that expanding the ban to include flights from Europe could affect as many as 3,500 flights a week during the busy summer travel season, and 65 million passengers per year.

Instead, the trade group suggested, regulators could increase the testing of passengers and their bags and electronic devices for traces of explosives, boost the use of explosive-sniffing dogs and deploy more security agents to interrogate travelers. "DHS is very aware as an organization the impact a laptop ban like this will have on the public".

Last year, 30 million people flew to the U.S. from Europe.

The U.S. delegation, led by Homeland Security Department Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke, wanted to hear European Commission concerns that a ban may be disruptive to the aviation system, said the official, who gave the briefing on condition that he not be identified.

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European officials say they received little advance notice of a possible expansion of the ban before news reports about the possibility surfaced last week. It also said increasing the number of lithium battery-powered devices in the cargo hold could affect safety.

European airline stocks continued to underperform broader markets Wednesday amid speculation that USA security officials are preparing to expand a ban on carrying laptop computers inside the cabin to include trans-Atlantic flights from the Continent that could cost passengers as much as US$1 billion.

In March, US authorities introduced restrictions on passengers taking laptops onto flights from Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, amid suggestions the US spooks had uncovered a bomb plot using a laptop. Checked baggage is screened more heavily than carry-ons and a bomb in the cargo hold would have less impact than one in the cabin, according to USA officials.

Banning laptops from the cabin of flights from Europe is bound to have enormous consequences.

There are also concerns that expensive electronics, with potentially sensitive information, could be more easily stolen if people are forced to keep them in checked baggage. "The additional security screening time may require passengers to arrive at airports four or more hours in advance of flights".

The existing ban involves 50 flights per day from 10 airports, primarily in the Middle East. Tablets and laptops must be stowed in checked baggage. At present they are not affected, because only Middle Eastern and North African airlines fly the specified routes. It said that the risk arising from storing PEDs in the hold where they may catch fire without being noticed "could be greater than the security risk of having them in the cabin'".

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