Here we go again: Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a House of Representatives panel Wednesday that the government is considering expanding the ban on laptops and other large electronic devices to dozens of additional airports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Reuters reports.
“We are looking right now at an additional 71 airports," Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told the panel, according to the Reuters report. "We're also looking at ways that we think we can mitigate the threat" without expanding the ban.
Kelly’s deputy will attend a conference in Malta next week to present “minimum increased security standards,” Reuters reports. If other nations are able to meet those standards, the ban will not be necessary, Kelly said.
The Trump administration has been discussing an expanded laptop ban since late March, but it has faced some pushback from European officials and travel industry groups.
Following a mid-May meeting between security officials from the United States and European Union (EU), a number of conflicting reports surfaced in the media on the expanded ban’s future, as some anonymous officials told media the ban was “off the table” for now, while other Trump administration officials said the expanded ban could come in the “next several days or weeks.” After a second meeting in Washington, DC, a week later, officials called a ban “likely” but not “imminent,” and after a later conference call, U.S. officials said the ban expansion was still “on the table.”
As negotiations over the expanded ban continued, the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) warned that expanding the ban to include flights from Europe could affect as many as 3,500 flights per week this summer and 65 million passengers per year. Business travelers would be particularly hard-hit, the BTC warned, as many companies have policies that prevent their workers from checking laptops in order to protect sensitive data.
In mid-May, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) called for a number of ways to minimize the ban’s impact on travelers, including exempting travelers in Global Entry and similar trusted traveler programs.
The prospect of an expanded ban has also raised safety concerns, as security experts have warned that the policy could push passengers to check large numbers of lithium ion battery-powered devices in the cargo hold, potentially posing a fire risk. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that there have been 160 incidents involving lithium ion batteries in cargo holds since 1991, including two crashes in 2010 and 2011. At the same time, the FAA told Bloomberg that transporting the batteries in bulk creates a different scenario than shipping electronics in checked luggage, and that the agency is in the planning stages for additional tests on the potential danger of a laptop ban.
A JetBlue flight last week provided an example of the risks posed by lithium batteries when a passenger’s laptop caught fire, forcing the plane to be diverted. The laptop was in the passenger’s carry-on luggage, and crew was able to put out the fire before the plane landed.
The current ban currently applies to 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Travel agents with clients that might be affected by the ban can keep an eye on the current list of airports and airlines affected here. For clients concerned about the safety of their electronic devices while they are traveling as checked baggage, we’ve compiled a list of quick travel insurance tips regarding the new electronics ban to share.