The Travel Advisor: Say so long to the tablets

By
March 26, 2017 05:14
Technology

Young businessman on bed reading on tablet. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

It was over a decade ago that a quartet of young men created an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages. Along with Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone owns the patent for Twitter, which has mushroomed to more than 330 million monthly active users.

Although some of the most famous tweets emanate from POTUS (US President Donald Trump), the tweet from Royal Jordanian that “US departments” had issued instructions that passengers on their flights to and from the US would be strictly prohibited from taking onboard electronic devices also garnered a lot of attention.

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The Royal Jordanian tweet said the ban applied to laptops, tablets, cameras, DVD players and electronic games; all of which would need to be placed in checked baggage. Surprisingly mobile phones and medical devices were excluded from the ban.

The Internet went ballistic. The wire services picked up the tweet, wondering where the information was coming from. Media reports proliferated with rumors that the US was about to announce a set of security rules targeted at airlines flying routes between the US and some African and Middle Eastern countries.

A US Department of Homeland Security spokesperson released a statement, “We have no comment on potential security precautions.”

Such a rule would be hard to enforce, almost certainly requiring secondary screening at the gate just before boarding for those airlines affected. It would be very unpopular with passengers, who are normally advised to keep laptops with them for fear of damage or theft and are used constantly on fold-down tables during the flight.

It seemed potentially discriminatory if applied to some airlines and not others. It also wasn’t clear why the electronic devices would be deemed a security risk in the cabin but not in the checked baggage hold.

More leaks came from senior officials in the Trump administration stating the ban would not be on specific airlines but only from 10 airports who flew directly to the United States. The officials were giving those airlines affected four days to implement the security order or face being barred from flying to the United States. It seemed that any security threat was bypassing Canada.

The electronics ban affects flights from international airports in Amman, Kuwait City, Cairo, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Casablanca Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This comes to approximately 50 flights a day, all on foreign airlines, as there no US-based airlines fly non-stop from any of those cities to the US.

For flights between the US to Israel, the airline severely impacted by this ban is Turkish Airlines.

Flying nonstop from Istanbul to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, LA, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC they are the second-largest foreign carrier in Israel. Their record of service and security rivals the best airlines in the world and with relations between the two countries no longer frozen, the numbers of passengers carried by Turkish Air continues to grow.

For security reasons the following substances are prohibited to be carried as checked baggage or hand baggage on most airlines:

• Alarmed briefcases and security-type attaché cases, items containing lithium batteries and/or pyrotechnic material
• Portable vehicles such as hover-boards, Segways, balance wheels, etc. that run on lithium-ion batteries are prohibited to be carried by the passenger in the cabin or as checked baggage
• Explosives, ammunition, fireworks and flares
• Flammable, non-flammable, deep-frozen or poisonous gases, including camping gas and aerosols
• Flammable substances such as paints, lighter fluid and thinner
• Matches, flammable solids easily or spontaneously combustible or that are liable to combust when in contact with water
• Oxidizing substances (such as bleaching agents and peroxide)
• Poisonous (toxic) and contagious substances
• Radioactive substances
• Corrosives (such as thermometers containing mercury, acid and fluid batteries)
• Equipment liable to cause injury, disabling chemical spray substances, substances causing irritation or incapacitation, such as pepper spray,
• Magnetic substances,
• Medical oxygen tubes.

US FEDERAL law goes further with its ban on liquids: personal items such as deodorant, hairspray, nail polish, perfume and certain medicines are permitted in baggage in limited quantities. Items in carry-on baggage may not exceed three ounces per container in a clear, one-quart bag. Items in checked baggage may not exceed 16 ounces per container or 70 ounces total per passenger.

Royal Jordanian, which broke the news and later deleted its own tweet, will be affected on its flights to and from Amman to New York, Chicago and Detroit.

Let’s delve deeper into the sudden reason for this ban on electronic devices, keeping in mind that smartphones can still be taken onboard.

The dearth of details implies that the nature of the measure was coming from hard intelligence of a possible attack. Could it have been a concern about inadequate passenger screening at these airports or some inside conspirators? Doubtful, as the security inside most of these airports, be it Cairo or Istanbul, make visiting a federal penitentiary a walk in the park.

Surprisingly, the government official who briefed reporters said such a ban had been considered for several weeks.

Security experts have surmised that the reason cell phones were exempt from the ban is that the larger electronic devices could be turned into potential bombs far more easily and more effectively than a cell phone. In other words, the terrorist would get more bang for his buck with the larger electronic items.

What’s the logic behind the electronics ban? While there has been a lot of speculation about what the actual policy is, I haven’t seen too much discussion about what the logic behind such a policy could be. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is scratching his head trying to understand this better.

Let me be the first to say that I’m not a security expert. Is the fear that a bomb will be masked as an electronic device? This has long been a fear and is usually solved by requesting that all electronics be powered on during a security inspection. Furthermore, if the fear is that bombs are masked as electronic devices, then how is having them checked solving anything? At least in the past, some bombs have been detonated in the cargo hold using a timer.

Furthermore, let’s keep in mind that in the past there were regulations banning lithium-ion batteries from being checked in the cargo hold. I don’t personally know how real that risk is. Are airlines now supposed to encourage passengers to check lithium-ion batteries? Is the fear that an electronic device will be used to somehow hack an aircraft system? If that is in fact a possibility, couldn’t that also be done from a smartphone? What’s the logic behind banning an iPad Mini but not an iPhone 7 Plus? If only passengers traveling on certain routes are being banned, what’s to prevent them from traveling through a third country to get to the US? For example, instead of traveling from Amman to New York they could travel from Amman to Frankfurt to New York, and then bring on those horribly dangerous laptops and iPads? There is also a huge disadvantage to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage. My fear is that thefts from baggage would skyrocket. Also, most airports in the United States use either CT scanners or computer tomography, which creates a detailed picture of a bag’s contents. This is used to warn an operator of potentially dangerous material and probably provides better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry on bags. All checked bags must be screened for explosives.

Everything about this situation seems so poorly executed and while I understand them not wanting to reveal possible risks, they could at least communicate the policy clearly so that passengers can prepare properly.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il


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