MS Risk Blog

US Ends Laptop Ban Imposed on Middle East Airlines

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The United States has ended a four month ban on passengers carrying laptops onboard US bound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, effectively brining to an end one of the controversial travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

In a tweet late on Wednesday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed that Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban. US officials lifted the ban after visiting the 10 airports in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey over the past three weeks to confirm that new security measures announced last month were being implemented. The ban has also been lifted on the nine airlines affected – Emirates, Etihad Airway, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Kuwait Airways, EgyptAir and Royal Air Maroc – which are the only carries that fly directly to the US from the region.

In March, the US banned large electronics in cabins on flights from ten airports in the Middle East and North Africa over concerns that explosives could be concealed in the devices taken onboard aircraft. The restrictions were imposed as major US carriers American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines resumed their campaign against the Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways by pressuring the new US administration to renegotiate its open skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. US and Middle East officials however have stated that the campaign and the travel restrictions were not related. Middle East carriers have blamed the Trump administration’s travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim majority countries from visiting the US, for a downturn in demand on US routes. Leading industry group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also criticized the laptop ban, stating that it was ineffective, as security experts argued that militants could travel to the US via Europe or elsewhere where the restrictions did not apply.

A ban on citizens on six Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – remains in place, however it has been limited after several US court hearings challenged the restrictions.

On Thursday, the US issued a revised directive to airlines around the world in response to requests that it clarify aviation security measures scheduled to begin taking effect this week. The new requirements include enhanced passenger screening at foreign airports, increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas and expanded canine screening. They affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the US, on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries. Airlines that fail to meet the new security requirements could face in-cabin electronics restrictions.

The United Kingdom continues to enforce a similar in-cabin ban on electronics on flights from some Middle Eastern airports. Those restrictions apply to flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.