While security may be the primary reason for the decision by the United States and the United Kingdom to ban passengers traveling from ten airports in predominately Muslin countries from carrying electronic items larger than a small smart phone on board, the regulation could also provide a boost to the three dominant American flag carriers that have long battled with rivals based in some of the affected countries.
Rather than abandon their beloved laptop or tablet, some passengers may opt for alternative routes to their destinations.
According to a press release issued by the Transportation Security Administration, “Evaluated intelligence 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.
“Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States.”
The new rules go into effect March 25 and mean that passengers on affected flights, often of 10 to 15 hours in duration depending on point of departure and U.S. destination, will no longer be able to use laptops or electronic tablets for work or entertainment during the flight.
Airports affected by the US order include one in Egypt, one in Jordan, one in Turkey, two in Saudi Arabia, one in Kuwait, one in Morocco, two in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and one in Qatar.
There are no restrictions on electronic devices on flights leaving the United States and no U.S. flag carrier provides direct service from any of the affected airports.
Shortly after Washington made its announcement, the United Kingdom made public its own list of restrictions. It also banned passenger on flights inbound to the UK from carrying large phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices from being brought into the cabin.
“The additional security measures may cause some disruption for passengers and flights, and we understand the frustration that will cause, but our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals,” the British Government said in a statement.
But the British ban affects both domestic and foreign airlines, including British Airways, the country’s largest. It affects direct flights to the United Kingdom from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Notable by their absence from the British ban were flights from Qatar and the UAE, the home bases of the three largest Middle East airlines. Each has expanded rapidly in recent years and has posed a serious challenge to both American and European carriers by developing massive hubs providing service to the Middle East and Asia.
Each of the Middle East carriers has been the target of complaints by the three major U.S. carriers of unfair competition. Delta, American and United have all bitterly complained about improper subsidies by the oil-rich governments that own the carriers. All three Mideast airlines have denied the charge.
An estimated 50 flights each day by the three Mideast carriers and Turkish Airlines to such cities as Boston, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be affected. All four carriers have rolled out programs designed to help passengers traveling to the United States to secure their electronic devices before takeoff and retrieve then upon landing.
Whether the ban will prompt American business travelers, an especially lucrative class of travelers, and others to abandon the affected carriers and find alternative routes to their destinations, remains to be seen.