Laptop ban: a crisis of trust in airport security

By Gary Mason

Editor, Airport Focus

No one in the aviation industry is going to sensibly argue against the cabin ban on laptops and tablets announced with lightning speed by the US and UK governments last week.

Commercial aviation is probably the number one target for terrorism and the safety of passengers and crew is paramount. Assuming that the ban was introduced on the back of intelligence relating to a specific threat the administrations had no choice to make.

But the fact is that there remains huge uncertainty about the affect the ban will have on global travel and tourism and how airlines at the affected airports will enforce the ban from a commercial stand point.

Will travellers, particularly those who spend the big bucks at the front of the aircraft, simply stop travelling from those airports, regardless of whether they are American nationals, Europeans, Jordanians or Saudi Arabians? Or will they simply check their personal electronics into the hold and pay the additional fee with the added inconvenience of having to wait to collect their checked luggage at the destination airport?

Passengers who pay first class and business fares use their laptops to work and take conference calls while travelling to their meetings. Nearly half of business travelers prefer to stay connected and get work done while flying, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), meaning that prohibiting electronics in carry-on bags could be a huge disincentive to travel — especially on long haul flights.

There are also concerns that expensive devices, containing potentially sensitive commercial information, could be more easily compromised if people are forced to keep them in checked baggage.

IATA calculations show that in the UK the ban will impact about 393 scheduled passenger flights per week, equivalent to about 2.7 % of the total international scheduled passenger flights to the UK.

In the US it will impact about 350 scheduled flights a week.

And while the bans only affect certain airlines and certain airports these are not aviation backwaters – the ban includes flights from Dubai International – the busiest airport in the world.

Clearly, these bans will be reviewed at some point by the governments who imposed them. But the problem with all new aviation security regulations is that once introduced they are like taxes – ministers are very unlikely to reverse them.

The LAGS ban introduced in 2006 was envisaged as a temporary restriction but it is still very much with us. Before airports and airlines get suffocated by layer upon layer of security regulation there needs to be a quantum leap in trusted traveler and PreCheck programs, which allow pre-vetted passengers to skip security protocols.

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