Passengers flying on some of the UK’s biggest airlines from six Middle Eastern countries will no longer be allowed to travel with electronic devices over a certain size. Following a similar ban in the US, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed the restrictions will apply on airlines including British Airways and EasyJet on all inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
A government spokesperson told WIRED that Theresa May had consulted with US security chiefs and chaired a meeting on aviation security during which the new measures were confirmed. The Department for Transport later tweeted the new guidelines.
More recently, reports suggest the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking to extend this ban to laptops in the cabins of all flights from Europe to the US. This could include tablets. The DHS has not confirmed these reports, only saying that the changes are “under consideration” and such changes are made “when necessary to keep air travellers safe.” The comments were made to The Daily Beast and WIRED has contacted DHS and the DfT for clarification.
Here is everything we know about the UK and US electronics ban so far:
Which routes are affected?
The ban only applies on direct, inbound flights to UK airports from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Which UK airlines are affected?
In the UK, passengers travelling on the following airlines from the listed countries will not be allowed to carry large electronic items in their cabin luggage:
The ban also covers eight overseas airlines that fly to and from UK airports including:
Middle East Airlines
This includes passengers of all nationalities flying on all of these airlines, on all of these routes. At present, no other routes are affected.
What items are banned?
The cabin luggage ban covers all electronic items with built-in batteries and plugs, that are larger than 16cm long, 9.3cm wide or 1.5cm deep. This includes laptops, tablets, phones, e-readers and portable DVD players.
The iPhone 7 Plus is not affected, for example, because it measures 15.8cm x 7.8cm x 0.73 cm. However, the Kindle Paperwhite measures 16.9cm x 11.7cm x 0.91cm meaning it is covered by the ban.
Does the ban apply to hold luggage?
No. The ban only currently applies to cabin luggage. Passengers with electronic items larger than the specified measurements will be required to place them in their hold luggage and check these bags in before going through security. All other security restrictions, including those concerning liquids and sharp items, will still apply.
As, theoretically, it is possible to still conceal a bomb or similar device in these items even when they are in the hold, WIRED has asked for clarification. It is also not clear what will happen if a passenger fails to check in an affected electronic device once they reach central security. As a workaround, Emirates is lending passengers on flights from Dubai to the US Microsoft Surface tablets to use in-flight.
The US ban restricts the use of any device larger than a smartphone, which certainly prevents business types from working on their laptops. However, passengers are allowed to take their own USB stick on the flight with them and load documents and files onto the Surface to edit while travelling.
Skyscanner’s hand luggage guide for UK airlines will let you know what you can and can’t take into the hold. This includes what each airline’s hand luggage restrictions are.
Why has the ban been introduced?
In an official statement, a government spokesperson told WIRED that while the restrictions may cause some disruptions for passengers and flights, the “top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals”. The statement continues that “decisions to make changes to aviation security are never taken lightly,” and the government, security officers and the Department for Transport “will not hesitate to act in order to maintain the safety of the travelling public.”
The spokesperson added the government will work closely with international partners to minimise disruption. It is not clear when the ban comes into effect, although it is expected to apply immediately. The government said passengers should check with airlines before they travel and is encouraging them to stay up-to-date with all guidance and statements issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
However, they would not be drawn on what prompted the change or whether a terrorist threat or similar had been made on the UK from the affected countries.
The night the ban was announced mid-March, reports claimed the so-called Islamic State group (ISIS) had been “working on ways to smuggle explosives on to planes by hiding them in electronics” and that this tip-off was from a credible source. A security source then told the Guardian that the decision had been made after “the exposure of a terror plot involving an Apple iPad.” These reports have not been confirmed, though.
How does the UK’s ban differ from the one being instigated in the US?
The US ban, which was introduced earlier today, applies to flights on nine airlines from ten international airports in eight countries.
This includes all direct flights from international airports serving the cities of Cairo in Egypt; Amman in Jordan; Kuwait City in Kuwait; Casablanca in Morocco; Doha in Qatar; Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia; Istanbul in Turkey; and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Although the reason behind the ban has not been explicitly revealed, a statement cited the 2016 incident in Somalia, and the attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, adding: “Evaluated intelligence indicates terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”