Thousands Of Flights Could Be Affected By Proposed Laptop Ban

By Dominic Fracassa and Benny Evangelista
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The ban that is being discussed would force travelers to get rid of their carry-on laptops on flights from 10 airports in Africa and the Middle East.

San Francisco Chronicle

Reports that U.S. security officials are considering banning laptops from the cabins of flights from Europe is spurring concern among business travelers and industry groups.

The proposed carry-on ban, currently under consideration by the Department of Homeland Security, would expand a similar policy the agency implemented in March that keeps electronic devices larger than phones out of carry-ons in flights from 10 airports in Africa and the Middle East.

The agency cited intelligence indicating that terrorist groups could try to smuggle “explosive devices in various consumer items” as the reason for that ban.

Widening the ban to flights from Europe to the U.S. — at the cusp of the major summer travel season — has prompted travel industry organizations to urge federal officials to leaven their concern for security with flexibility in order to minimize disruptions to travelers.

For business travelers making regular treks between the U.S. and Europe, the ban would be a “huge inconvenience,” said Andy McLoughlin, a partner at SoftTech VC in Palo Alto.

Previously, while running a company with offices in the U.S. and Britain, McLoughlin said he sometimes flew to and from Europe every three or four weeks.

“There are tens of thousands of entrepreneurs coming from all over the world to do business, and this would make their life really tough,” he said. “You’re coming in to do business. The fact that you can’t do anything on that plane ride is kind of ridiculous.”

The ban could also directly conflict with rules that companies and other organizations put in place for business travel. Some employers specify that laptops and other devices containing sensitive information be kept as carry-on luggage at all times.

“Companies that have those policies are just going to have to change them, because there’s no way around this,” said Brian Kelly, the founder of the Points Guy, an online travel news and advice website.

Stephen Hirschfeld crisscrosses the globe frequently for his work as an employment attorney.

He said he uses his iPad Pro “continuously” to keep up with work on long flights. Having to go without it “would be a nightmare,” he said. Tablets, e-readers and other devices are included in the current electronics ban.

“The idea of being out of pocket for that long in today’s world is ridiculous. I have clients who need my help,” he said.

Kelly said that at some Middle Eastern airports where the device ban is already in place, security officials have set up separate lines for passengers traveling with electronics, where the devices are inspected and packaged separately from the rest of a flight’s cargo.

Shortly after the original ban was announced, the Flight Safety Foundation, an aviation safety group, warned that it could create risks by shifting more devices powered by lithium batteries to cargo holds. Lithium batteries, commonly used in almost all modern electronics, have been linked to fires.

Ronan De Renesse, a consumer technology analyst with Ovum, a research and consulting firm, said the ban won’t have much effect on laptop sales but could cause frequent business travelers like himself to cut back on other expenses, like buying inflight Internet access or booking premium seats.

“The main point for a lot of business travelers to fly business class is to be able to work on the plane,” De Renesse said. “If they can’t have their laptops with them, they won’t be able to work on the plane. You might move to economy.”

Moreover, without a laptop, there’s less incentive to pay for Internet access, “so everything associated with productivity on a plane as a business traveler is just going to disappear,” he said. “Maybe business travelers will just have to take a notepad and pencil with them. And a calculator.”

Raymond Gorman, a spokesman for computer maker Lenovo, declined to comment on whether sales would be affected.

“Until we know exactly what (if anything) is being newly implemented regarding flights from Europe to the U.S., we prefer not to speculate,” Gorman said in an email.

Apple declined to comment. HP Inc. and Dell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

De Renesse, who said he travels about once a month from San Francisco to Europe or Asia, said the ban could increase sales of hard-shell luggage to better protect laptops from the bump and grind of baggage handling.

But that won’t help if luggage is delayed or lost. “One time I came home to San Francisco from London and my suitcase was open, and they lost one of my shoes,” he said. “What if you don’t have your work laptop for one day or one week?”

“I’ve got about 10 of my colleagues coming from London next week,” De Renesse said. “Thank God the ban is not applied yet.”

Although the ban would only directly affect travelers, the move potentially affects a large segment of consumers. About 72.3 percent of U.S. consumers owned or had access to a laptop, according to a survey Ovum conducted last year.

More than 3,000 flights are expected to arrive in the U.
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S. from the European Union each week this summer. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest market for spending on business travel, after China, according to the Global Business Travel Association. Global spending for business travel topped $1.3 trillion and is projected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2020, the group said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
Dominic Fracassa and Benny Evangelista are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.

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