Intel seen bringing Bigger laptop ban

May 17, 2017

A ban on laptops and tablets in-flight will be the focus of talks in Brussels today between U.S. and European transportation and security officials — a drastic change that some fear could lead to chaos at airports and do more harm than good.

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke is set to “provide European partners with a high-level briefing on current and evolving threats to global aviation security,” department spokesman David Lapan told the Herald.

The U.S. has already instituted a similar ban for 10 Muslim-majority countries mostly in North Africa and the Middle East.

Now it’s considering expanding that prohibition to include all trans-Atlantic flights entering the U.S. from Europe. It would affect as many as 65 million passengers a year who rely on more than 400 daily flights.

Homeland Security officials are concerned ISIS terrorists could place enough explosives inside a laptop to blow a hole in a plane mid-flight, but evade detection on the ground.

The laptop-bomb scenario is at the center of the controversy swirling in Washington over President Trump’s leaking of the highly classified intel to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week.

That threat — reportedly obtained by Israeli agents — comes as the summer travel season looms.

“If you’re seated in the window seat and you get maybe more than 8 ounces of explosives into that laptop, there’s potential there for some real damage,” said Trenton Scott Higareda of CTI Consulting, an aviation security firm, who put the odds at greater than 50 percent that a ban will be announced for flights from at least some European cities by this time next week.

But U.S. and European officials are concerned terrorists are working to develop better techniques, he added.

Flying can already be a rage-inducing nightmare as airlines cram more seats into the cabin, overbook flights and charge fees on once-free items from bags to blankets.

Trying to pass the monotony of a trans-Atlantic flight merely with cellphones, books and magazines in the age of the electronic screen may escalate in-flight tensions even more.

Plus, trusting the airlines to responsibly handle fragile laptops and tablets in the cargo hold — not to mention the private information contained on them — may deter some business travelers altogether.

“It would approach insanity,” Higareda said. “There is going to be so much pushback from business travelers and, of course, that’s where airlines get most of their money. … They may choose alternatives such as doing their work by Skype.”

Pilots in Great Britain warned the ban may solve one problem but create a larger one — fire risk from faulty or short-circuited lithium batteries left unattended in the belly of a plane.

“The British Airline Pilots’ Association believes the risk arising from storing personal electronic devices in the hold where they may catch fire without being noticed could be greater than the security risk of having them in the cabin,” the organization said in a statement.

Experts warn that airport confusion could be even greater if the laptop ban ends up applying to U.S. domestic flights as well, though the Trump administration has not announced plans for that.

Lapan, the DHS spokesman, said today’s meeting was proposed by Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly as a follow-up to a conference call with the same European partners last week.

Duke will be joined at the meeting by the acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, Huban Gowadia, Lapan said.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.