The US is expected to broaden its ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from the European Union, a move that would create logistical chaos on the world’s busiest corridor of air travel. Alarmed at the proposal, which airline officials say is merely a matter of timing, European governments held urgent talks today with the US Department of Homeland Security. The ban would affect trans-Atlantic routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights, many of them business travelers who rely on their electronics to work during the flight.
The ban would dwarf in size the current one, which was put in place in March and affects about 50 flights per day from 10 cities, mostly in the Middle East. Chief among the concerns are whether any new threat prompted the proposal and the relative safety of keeping in the cargo area a large number of electronics with lithium batteries, which have been known to catch fire. American officials were invited to Brussels next week to discuss the proposed ban, the EU said.
European Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said the EU had no new information about a specific security concern. US officials have said the decision in March to bar laptops and tablets from the cabins of some international flights wasn’t based on any specific threat but on longstanding concerns about extremists targeting jetliners.
Experts say a bomb in the cabin would be easier to make and require less explosive force than one in the cargo hold. Baggage in cargo usually goes through a more sophisticated screening process than carry-on bags. Jeffrey Price, an aviation-security expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the original ban focused on certain countries because their equipment to screen carry-on bags is not as effective as machines in the US.
A French official who was briefed about today’s meeting said the Americans announced they wanted to extend the ban, and the Europeans planned to formulate a response in coming days. The official said the primary questions revolved around when and how and not whether the ban would be imposed.
The official spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan. Jenny Burke, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said no final decision has been made on expanding the restriction.
But Homeland Security officials met Thursday with high- ranking executives of the three leading US airlines American, Delta and United and the industry’s leading US trade group, Airlines for America, to discuss expanding the laptop policy to flights arriving from Europe. Two airline officials who were briefed on the discussions said Homeland Security gave no timetable for an announcement, but they were resigned to its inevitability. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.