Here’s What the New U.S. “Electronics Ban” Means for Air Travelers

It’s been two weeks since the United States and the U.K. enacted the so-called “electronics ban” and most travelers still have no idea what it means and if/how it will affect them. While it sounds scary (“You want me to go how long without Hulu?”), its application is quite narrow. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Now?

The enaction in both countries stems from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) claim that, “terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.” The agency has been vague about the specifics and why this ban was enacted now, but Britain deemed the threat credible enough to pass their own ban. What’s curious is that both countries target different airports.

Where Is the Ban in Effect?

The number of flights affected is actually quite small — just 3% of total international flights in/out of each country on the list. However, even small changes in specific airlines can have ripple effects on airport security in particular and airports in general. Currently, the U.S. ban applies only to flights departing from these ten cities:

  • Egypt: Cairo
  • Turkey: Istanbul
  • Jordan: Amman
  • Saudi Arabia: Riyadh and Jeddah
  • United Arab Emirates: Dubai and Abu Dhabi
  • Kuwait: Kuwait City
  • Morocco: Casablanca
  • Qatar: Doha

The DHS is quick to point out that the new regulations will not apply to every flight from the above airports. So, for now, the situation is unpredictable at best, although travelers should prepare for the worst. The ban does not currently apply to any domestic U.S. flights.

What Is Being Banned and How?

What the ban means in practice is that travelers will be required to pack electronics in their checked baggage at their origin airport. This includes just about every major piece of kit larger than a smartphone including laptops, digital cameras, tablets, e-readers, etc. Read: all of your most expensive luggage. Since the Conditions of Carry for most airlines (both domestic and international) are only required to abide by the Montreal Convention, they’re not liable for more than approximately $700 USD of loss or damage.

Some airlines have proactively devised a compromise. Emirates, for example, allows travelers to continue using their electronics at the gate and on the first leg of their journey. Once they reach Dubai (Emirates’ hub), however, they are required to produce their banned electronics to airline staff who will box and catalog each piece aboard the aircraft. On the plus side, this “service” is free.

What’s the Alternative?

Your best bet is to secure proper travel insurance which, frankly, every traveler should have anyway. Companies like Allianz and World Nomads offer straightforward policies that protect not only your gear but you as well in the event of an errant hot air ballooning or skydiving accident. You may be already insured under your homeowner’s/renter’s insurance policy, so be sure to check that first. Read your contract carefully, so you know what’s covered in advance. Some plans cover very specific gear and only up to a certain amount per item.

If you absolutely must travel with your electronics, the only other viable option is to ship your gear home from your destination. Most international airports have post offices or shipping providers like FedEx (which provides specialty padded boxes for shipping laptops, tablets, and small electronics) in the terminal and most offer or include insurance. This can be a far cheaper option, especially if you don’t require comprehensive travel insurance.

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