DHS’ Cabin Laptop Ban Sparks Questions About International Flight Safety

The US government’s recent decision to ban laptop and smart devices from the cabin of flights from selected Middle Eastern and North African countries as a security measure against terrorists only sparks crucial questions about the safety of passengers in flights not under the ban.

Dubai, UAE – May 8, 2017 – The US government’s cabin laptop ban applies to nine international airlines carrying passengers from northern Africa and Middle East to the US. According to the US’s Department of Homeland Security, the ban is being implemented as a security measure against possible terrorist placing undetectable explosive material in laptops as part of carry-on luggage.

The decision has already raised serious questions on international flight safety. As the ban is imposed on just a select number of flights, it implies all the other flights free from the restriction carry the risk of terrorists boarding the cabin with explosive-filled laptops. It includes all the domestic flights in the US and also flights coming from countries (other than those where the 10 selected airports are located).

“We have reason to be concerned about attempts by terrorist groups to circumvent aviation security…Implementing additional security measures enhances our ability to mitigate further attempts against the overseas aviation industry,” the US DHS noted while explaining its latest decision on the ban.

This explanation clearly points out DHS’ lack of confidence in security checks anywhere really. Homeland Security fears that no security procedures at airport would be able to prevent terrorists with explosives in tablets or laptops from getting on a flight. Ironically, DHS’ ban includes those airports which are renowned for state of the art security and have even been praised by US President Trump himself as “first class” and “incredible” – compared to US airports.

Why is the cabin laptop ban not also imposed on US domestic flights and international flights to the US from other countries?

If protection from terrorists bringing explosive filled laptops into the cabins of flights is believed to be the real reason for the ban, then not placing the same restriction on the other flights actually jeopardizes the lives of the tens of millions of other passengers flying within US or to the US from other nations. The moment terrorists learn of the ban, they will use any one of the 240 airports with direct flights to the States.

On a second thought, the ban cannot prevent the terrorists even when they are flying from the selected countries. Initially, they would check-in their laptops (filled with explosives) in luggage placed in the cargo hold of planes as per the rules.  Once they have landed they could choose any of the 240 airports to get on a direct flight to the US with explosive filled laptops as part of the their carry-ons and then blow-up that plane.

The CEO of International Air Transport Association, Alexandre de Juniac had a most fitting comment in criticizing the US ban: “The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate.  Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness.”

Needless to say, there is a great need for a better and more effective solution. A balanced regulatory framework could be enacted for “extreme vetting” (taking cues from the President himself) of the passengers and their cabin luggage in all airports to detect laptop bombs or any other security threats posed by the terrorists. On the one hand, it would help to identify the terrorists before they get on board – and on the other, there would be extensive screening of laptops to mitigate risks of explosives in the plane.

However, speculation is also rife about another motive behind the ban. According to many, under this pseudo protectionism measure, the Trump administration is actually staging a coup to harm certain international airlines from countries such as the UAE & Qatar. The claims of security risk could be just be to mask its nasty discriminatory actions against particular foreign airports and airlines. 

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