How Does the Electronics Ban Affect International Travelers?

New regulations affect some inbound travelers, while many are unaffected.

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In March 2017, the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administered a new regulation on travelers heading directly to the United States from 10 different airports. Unlike previous travel bans that focused on inbound passengers, this travel ban focused on what passengers were carrying unto their flights.

The new travel ban, announced by the TSA, officially instituted a prohibition on personal consumer electronics on certain flights inbound directly to the United States. Under the new ban, passengers on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Northern Africa may not carry electronic items larger than a smartphone onto their flights. All other items must be checked with other luggage in the cargo area of the aircraft.

With the new regulations come many questions and concerns about how the new rules will be applied aboard flights. Will all flights be affected by the new ban? How should travelers pack their items before boarding an international flight?

Before you start preparing for your next flight abroad, be prepared with knowledge about the electronics ban. The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about how the new regulations affect international travelers.

Which Airports and Flights Are Affected by the Electronics Ban?

Under the electronics ban, approximately 50 flights per day are affected from 10 airports across the Middle East and Northern Africa. The airports that are affected are:

  • Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) - Amman, Jordan
  • Cairo International Airport (CAI) – Cairo, Egypt
  • Ataturk International Airport (IST) – Istanbul, Turkey
  • King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED) – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International Airport (RUH) – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport (KWI) – Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Mohammed V Airport (CMN) – Casablanca, Morocco
  • Hamad International Airport (DOH) – Doha, Qatar
  • Dubai International Airport (DXB) – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Only flights bound directly to the United States are affected under the electronics ban. Flights that are not going direct to the United States or itineraries with connections in other airports may not necessarily be affected by the electronics ban.

In addition, the travel ban is equally applicable to all airlines flying between the two countries and indifferent to pre-clearance facilities. Even airports with customs and TSA pre-clearance facilities (like Abu Dhabi International Airport) are subject to the TSA electronics ban.

Which Items Are Prohibited Under the Electronics Ban?

Under the electronics ban, any electronics that are larger than a cell phone are prohibited from being carried aboard an aircraft flying directly to the United States. These electronics include, but are not limited to:

  • Laptop computers
  • Tablet computers (including the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab)
  • Rechargeable headphones with lithium batteries
  • E-Readers
  • Cameras
  • Portable DVD players
  • Electronic game units larger than a smartphone
  • Travel printers/scanners

In order to travel with any of these items on affected flights, passengers must pack these items in their checked luggage. Items that are as small or smaller than a smartphone, including personal power packs and electronic cigarettes, will still be allowed in carry-on luggage. Medically required devices will also be exempted from the electronics ban.

Why Was the Electronics Ban Instituted?

According to an official bulletin posted by the TSA, the travel ban was instituted as a result of intelligence suggesting a terrorist plot involving electronic devices. In an abundance of safety, the decision was made to remove large electronic items from the cabin from flights departing the 10 affected airports.

“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,” the bulletin read. “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.”

However, alternate theories suggest that there is no direct intelligence supporting terrorist activities, but the ban was a pre-emptive move instead. Speaking to NBC News, several senior officials suggest that the move is an advanced move to prevent a terrorist incident aboard a commercial aircraft involving an explosive disguised as a large electronic device.

What Are My Options When Flying From the Affected Airports?

When flying from one of the 10 affected international airports direct to the United States, travelers will have one of two options when packing their bags. Travelers can either check their items with their luggage, or they can “gate check” their items with certain carriers.

Potentially, the most secure way to ensure smooth travels between the affected airports and the United States is to check the affected items with luggage destined for the cargo compartment. Large electronics secured by a padded compartment and a travel lock can be sent straight to a traveler’s final destination, bypassing any problems in boarding with these items. However, those checked bags packed with personal electronics are subject to additional risks as well, including getting lost in transition, or becoming a target for luggage thieves.

The second option to consider is “gate checking” large electronic items just prior to boarding the aircraft. Select carriers, including Etihad Airways, will allow travelers to hand over control of large electronic items to flight attendants or ground crews prior to departure. Those crews will then pack items in padded envelopes and transfer them to the cargo hold. At the conclusion of the flight, those electronic items will either be available at the jet bridge or at the checked luggage carousel. Again, using the gate check option opens up the possibility of having those items lost at the airport by not entering the cargo hold to begin with.

For those who must live with electronic devices, options aboard two Middle East carriers are available. Etihad Airways announced they would allow iPads to be offered to first class and business class travelers, while Qatar Airways will offer laptop computers to premium passengers. 

As with any travel situation, different carriers will each have different options for passengers. Before making travel plans, be sure to consult your individual airline policy to determine all of your options.

Will Security Change for Flights Within the United States?

While security options are changing for the flights inbound to the United States from the 10 airports affected by the electronics ban, flights within the United States are not changing. Passengers on flights within the United States, or those traveling internationally departing from the United States, are still allowed to carry their large electronic items aboard aircraft.

Even those who are departing direct to the 10 affected nations will be allowed to carry on and use their large electronics during the flight. However, those electronics are all subject to the requisite federal and international laws, including the stowing of large electronics during the taxi, takeoff, or landing phase of flight.

Which Items Are Always Prohibited on American Flights?

While electronic items are still allowed aboard commercial flights in the United States, the list of items that are not allowed has not changed. Passengers boarding a flight within American borders are still subject to all TSA regulations, including carrying on all battery-powered e-cigarettes and spare lithium batteries, while not carrying threatening items aboard aircraft.

Passengers who attempt to board the aircraft with a prohibited item could face significant penalties for their misguided attempts. In addition to being stopped from boarding a flight, those who attempt to carry on a weapon or other prohibited item could face arrest and prosecution, which could lead to fines and jail time.

Are There Any Other Regulations Travelers Need to Know?

In addition to the electronics ban for flights inbound to the United States, the United Kingdom will also mirror those same regulations for passengers flying into their country. The electronics ban will also apply to those aboard aircraft departing from six Middle East nations direct for British airports. The countries affected include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey. Prior to departure, check with your airline to see if your flight is affected.

While new bans and regulations can be confusing, every traveler can still see the world with ease by preparing for the situation at hand. By understanding and following the electronics bans, travelers can ensure their flights depart easily and without trouble when it is time to see the world.