Laptop Bans: Air Flight a Front Line in the War Against Terror

Carl Weinschenk

The west is at war with terrorism. In any war, sacrifices must be made. One that American travelers may be called upon to make is to travel internationally without laptops and tablets on all international flights.

Currently, devices larger than smartphones are banned from the cabin of flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa. On Fox News Sunday this week, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that the laptop ban might be expanded to cover all flights into and out of the U.S. If the administration takes the step, roughly 4,300 flights that enter and leave the country daily, with an average load of about 560,000 passengers, would be affected, according to CNNMoney.

Computerworld’s Mike Elgan (who ironically was writing from Morocco, one of the cities under the current ban) explained the rationale for the potential move. He wrote that laptops in the main cabin are considered the most dangerous situation. Manually detonating devices can be mass produced. They can also more easily evade inspectors because they don’t require remote detonation wiring and are comparatively easy to spot.

Elgan suggests that packing laptops into stowed luggage may not be a permanent answer for two reasons. One is that theft will become an issue since airport workers will know that bags are full of valuable devices. The other is that lithium-ion fires in the cargo holds will become more prevalent. Of course, a fire anywhere on a plane is bad news. It’s a lot more serious, however, if it happens where nobody can get to it with an extinguisher.


The inconvenience of the prohibition shouldn’t lead people to assume that there is no need for it. Politico posted a long story in March on the thinking behind the current laptop ban. The bottom line:

Whether new intelligence led to the decision or not, we already know for certain that Al Qaeda has continued to think up ways to terrorize the skies. For years, Al Qaeda operatives in Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have been experimenting with sophisticated explosives that can be smuggled onto planes.

The possible ban leads to thoughts of likely technology ramifications. A universal ban would be a positive development for the unified communications (UC) sector. Executives, undecided on whether a trip is worthwhile, will see the inconvenience, boredom and loss of formerly productive travel work time as reasons to use even imperfect UC platforms.

Organizations also adapt. If a comprehensive U.S. ban goes into effect, it is logical to think that airlines – which may be dealing with a dip in business due to the bans and fear of terrorism – will start renting or even loaning devices for use on planes. These will likely be thought secure enough to be used by executives for the level of work that they entrust to airline Wi-Fi today. It is also likely that inflight entertainment options, which have expanded tremendously over the past decade, will grow even more comprehensive.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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