U.S. and European Union officials discuss laptop ban on flights

Laptop Ban-Travel Disruptions
A traveler from Malaysia uses his laptop computer at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

As U.S. Homeland Security officials met Wednesday in Brussels with European Union leaders to discuss expanding a laptop ban in aircraft cabins on flights from Europe, an airline trade group urged regulators to choose alternative security measures instead.

Extending a carry-on laptop ban, imposed in March, would cost passengers $1.1 billion a year in lost productivity and travel time, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 265 airlines. The current ban at 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa impacts 350 flights a week. A broader ban on carry-on laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices on all flights from Europe would affect 390 flights a day, or more than 2,500 a week, IATA said. Last year, 31 million passengers flew from European airports to the United States.

“Businesses will cancel trips rather than risk having laptops checked due to risk of confidential information,” IATA chief executive officer Alexandre de Juniac said in a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and his European counterpart Violeta Bulc. “This would have implications for future investment and business transactions.”

EU officials met Wednesday with a delegation led by Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke to discuss “serious evolving threats to aviation security and approaches to confronting such threats.” They agreed to meet again next week in Washington.

IATA urged regulators to increase the screening of passengers, bags, and electronic devices for traces of explosives, and to do visual inspections of electronic devices, including turning on the device. The industry group recommended increasing the use of bomb-sniffing dogs and training more security officers to question travelers. “These alternative measures would also avoid the concentration of lithium battery-powered devices in the cargo hold of passenger aircraft,” de Juniac said.

U.S. officials have declined to give reasons for expanding the ban. News reports have said terrorists may have developed a way to hide explosives in laptop computers and detonate them on aircraft mid-flight.