Airline Laptop Ban Would Deliver Billion-Dollar Victory to Terrorists

Terrorists could inflict over a billion dollars of damage to the economy without lifting a trigger finger if they can scare the Trump Administration into banning laptops from Europe–U.S. flights:

While existing curbs on some services from the Middle East and North Africa affect 350 U.S.-bound flights per week, extending it to the 28 European Union states plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland would impact 390 a day, or more than 2,500 a week, the International Air Transport Association estimates. That would cost passengers $655 million in lost productivity, $216 million for longer travel times, and $195 million for renting loaner devices on board, it says.

…“Traveling with your laptop is part of everyday life,” [IATA Chief Executive Officer Alexandre] De Juniac told Bloomberg. “We are not sure that this ban is adapted to the threat. We don’t know what is the basis or intelligence that justifies this measure” [Christopher Jasper, Guy johnson, and Marine Strauss, “Wider Laptops Ban to Cost Passengers $1 Billion, Airlines Warn,” Bloomberg, 2017.05.17].

European and U.S. officials may be backing away from the laptop ban. We can only hope the Trump Administration will listen to experts and adopt more sensible security measures that don’t endanger productivity, information security, and plane safety (lithium batteries packed in the cargo hold can go boom!).

But if they don’t, what options could allow travelers to stay connected and productive while traveling to Europe?

  1. Travelers could load all of their road-work to Google Drive or some other cloud storage that they can access from other devices.
  2. Airlines could install Chromebooks or cheap keyboard/tablet combos in each seat as compensation for banning vital personal property from flights.
  3. Businesses and hotels could make similar loaner devices available to international visitors.

But notice that those solutions create more information security risks and hassle for travelers, which means, once again, the terrorists win. Getting governments to deny millions of travelers the opportunity to work and communicate while traveling is a brilliant victory for terrorists, weakening the Western economy and liberty without blowing up a single plane.

16 Responses to Airline Laptop Ban Would Deliver Billion-Dollar Victory to Terrorists

  1. One solution: Simply fly to Toronto. Make a connection. Plus, use a foreign (non-US) flagged-carrier. The trip will be much more pleasant.

  2. Tyler Schumacher

    I thought it was a little ridiculous when I first heard of the ban, but isn’t this directly related to whatever classified information Trump seems to have leaked to Russia? We don’t have enough information to know if it’s a good or bad policy.

  3. I wish I could find the article regarding this, but it made the case that the laptop ban has little to do with security measures and everything to do with increasing profits for US airlines who met with Trump early in his presidency to discuss their economic woes. The bans only affect foreign airlines, leaving the US carriers as the easier, albeit more expensive, option for international business travelers.

  4. Dubai-based Emirates Airlines has seen profits drop 82% under the laptop ban. That same article notes that U.S. airlines may be lobbying hard to prevent the ban from expanding to include their Europe flights.

  5. yeah, none of this is making sense. The simple-minded person in me questions ——- if you can’t have the laptop in the cabin of the plane, it goes into the belly/checked baggage of the plane. Laptops being in the belly of the plane are…….safer?

  6. mike from iowa

    Apparently the info Drumpf leaked sez ISIS has learned to hide explosives in batteries for laptops, at least that is what I read somewhere. I’m pretty damn sure Israel and US intel did not want this info made public which is why this was not to be shared with anybody.

    Drumpf even named the city where this was taking place, I believe. Don’t quote me on this, yet. I’ll see if I can relocate info.

  7. mike from iowa

    Trump also reportedly boasted to the Russians about the intelligence he was receiving, telling the two men, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day”:

    “Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.

    “The Washington Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.”

    ISIS and others have stolen airport security devices to ensure they can slip bombs through security.

  8. mike from iowa

    Many pilots have complained that with lithium batteries comes an inherent fire risk and they would prefer the fire risk be in the cabins where they could be quickly detected and handled.

  9. Aachen on the Plains

    New props for the next act of that endless production, Security Theatre.

  10. Buckobear, I hope Canada will seize the opportunity to cash in on American travelers. Kind of like backpacking with a Canada pin on your gear: if you want to travel without getting hassled, pretend you’re Canadian!

  11. I can’t believe we can’t come up with scanners—or better yet, some Israeli-style questioning—that will distinguish a blogger like me hoping to keep up with posts while traveling to Paris and a terrorist on a suicide mission with an explosive in his computer instead of a normal battery. Heck, weigh the laptop, compare it to factory specs (that’s not a hard database to compile, certainly not if you’re the NSA/TSA). If the weight doesn’t match, pull the flyer aside to ask a few more questions and run a deeper background check.

  12. Don Coyote

    @cah: “Heck, weigh the laptop, compare it to factory specs (that’s not a hard database to compile, certainly not if you’re the NSA/TSA). If the weight doesn’t match, pull the flyer aside to ask a few more questions and run a deeper background check.”

    And you will account for extra weight from keyboard covers, trackpad protectors, palm guards, screen protectors, laptop shells/skins, etc how?

  13. Don, I’m trying to come up with a viable alternative to shutting over a billion dollars’ worth of economic activity. First filter out the vast majority of laptops that aren’t customized by searching the computers much as they are now. Let passengers know ahead of time that this is what we’re checking and advise them that if they pull the extra crap off their computer, they’re more likely to go through the line without delay.

    Now terrorists will know this, too (remind me again, empirically, how many laptop bombs have been built and successfully deployed? risk/benefit analysis?) and will try to balance the weight of their explosives to match factory weight. That’s why we look into further non-ban means.

    Say, if the laptop bomb depends on modifying the battery, does that mean it has to be an easily detachable battery? Can they slip enough explosives into a MacBook Air or other slim notebook? Or does this bombing method depend on a bulky battery pack? If that’s the case, we ask every traveler with a laptop with an easily detachable battery to do so, let the K-9 unit take a big sniff, and visually inspect the battery for signs of serious tinkerage.

    There are ways to solve this problem that don’t involve being fraidy cats. We are America. We can find bombs. And there hasn’t been one detonated on an American plane for years. We’re in pretty good shape. We should stop the freakout that lets the terrorists hurt us without trying and look for sensible prevention measures.

  14. Aachen on the Plains

    I still feel that having a bomb in the cargo compartment with a concentrated pile of extremely flammable batteries is not a best-case scenario anyway. Now, I don’t know if the other sections of aircraft are substantially better-armored, but I have heard that professionals who work on planes prefer batteries in the passenger compartment for ease of putting out any fires that may occur.

  15. Sounds like common sense precautions make a lot more sense than rushing into panic mode! The thing terrorists like best is to cause chaos!! The only thing better is to cause chaos with almost no effort at all!!

  16. Aachen, this link in the original post backs up what you’re saying about where it’s safer to carry those batteries:

    So does this article from Consumer Reports:

    The issue has been studied extensively by aviation safety experts over the past few years. And there is an emerging body of opinion that, yes, it is somewhat safer if laptops and similar devices are kept in the passenger compartment rather than the cargo hold.

    Why? For one thing, if a laptop catches fire in the cabin, it will be noticed immediately and steps can be taken to put it out. And though there are fire safety systems in the hold of an airplane, they aren’t well-equipped to deal with the type of fire that lithium-ion batteries generate.

    “There’s a balance here,” says John Cox, a former pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation consulting firm. “As we put lithium-ion batteries in cargo holds, they are no longer in an area where the crew can deal with them if they do catch fire. And the fire suppression systems using only [the common extinguishant] halon have not proven to be effective on lithium-ion fires.”

    If a battery-powered device were to catch fire in the cargo hold, the halon in the onboard suppression system might extinguish the flames, but the battery would continue to heat up, potentially causing other fires.

    “If you have a cargo hold with numerous lithium batteries, once one goes and starts that heating process, it can propagate to further devices,” Cox says. “You have this reignition” [Bree Fowler and Allen St. John, “The Problem With Stowing Lithium-Ion Batteries on Planes,” Consumer Reports, 2017.03.22].