The US government has banned laptops on certain international flights from the Middle East
"Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items," a senior administration official said on a call with members of the media.
"Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last-point-of-departure airports to the United States."
In practice, the enhanced security procedures will require passengers to place all electronic items larger than a cell phone in their checked luggage so the devices cannot be accessed in flight. This includes, but is not limited to, laptops, tablets, e-readers, portable DVD players, gaming devices larger than a smartphone, and travel-sized printers and scanners.
Currently, the FAA requires that all lithium-ion batteries, such as those that power laptops, cameras, and tablets, be allowed on board the aircraft only in carry-on luggage due to concerns about fire. It is unclear how the affected airlines will reconcile those guidelines.
In total, 10 airports in eight countries - plus nine airlines - will be affected by the "laptop ban." They include:
- Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Amman, Jordan.
- Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Cairo, Egypt.
- Ataturk International Airport (IST) in Istanbul, Turkey.
- King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
- King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
- Kuwait International Airport (KWI) near Kuwait City, Kuwait.
- Mohammed V Airport (CMN) in Casablanca, Morocco.
- Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, Qatar.
- Dubai International Airport (DXB) in Dubai, UAE
- Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Airlines affected by the ban include:
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- Kuwait Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
- Qatar Airways
- Etihad Airways
According to the senior administration officials on the call, the ban will only affect non-stop flights to the US originating from these airports - which equates to roughly 50 flights per day. Passengers connecting through another destination such as an airport in Europe will not be subject to the ban. However, passengers connecting through the affected airports for non-stop flights to the US are advised to place their large electronic devices in checked luggage at their point of origination.
No US-based airlines will be directly affected by the ban, as none currently offer non-stop service to these Middle Eastern destinations.
In addition, airlines will have up to 96 hours, beginning Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. EDT, to comply with the new policy. "If they fail to comply with the security directive and emergency amendment, we will work with the Federal Aviation Administration to pull their (operating) certificates and they will not be allowed to fly to the United States," an administration official said on the call.
Administration officials denied claims the new policy is related to the dispute between American, Delta, and United Airlines and their Middle-Eastern rivals from Qatar and the UAE over allegations of unfair government subsidies.
The DHS cites the attempted downing of Daallo Airlines Flight 159 in February 2016 in which a terrorist managed to sneak a "sophisticated laptop bomb" past x-ray scanners in Somalia as an example of the threat the directive is attempting to counteract. In addition, the agency points to the 2015 bombing of a Russian MetroJet Airbus in Egypt that killed all 224 people on board along with recent terror attacks at Brussels Airport and Ataturk International in Istanbul, Turkey.
Business Insider asked Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways for comment. Etihad said that it was still sorting through the issue internally and was unable to offer details. Emirates and Qatar Airways said they would share more information once it's available.
Officials say that there is no set timeline for the ban and its necessity will be periodically evaluated.