Over the last few years, air travel and work have become a lot more compatible. While tray tables are still too small and seats are too close together, it’s possible to read a bunch of email and plough through some jobs. Phones can be used right up till take off and almost as soon as we land and in-flight Internet is common in the US and coming soon to Australia. But the US government’s decision to band anything larger than a mobile phone from flights operated by certain airlines operating out of the Arab world is bad news. And possibly the thin edge of the wedge.
According to a report at The Guardian the decision was prompted by the uncovering of a plot to hide an explosive in an iPad.
The UK ban affects flights coming from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey while the US are hitting flights from 10 airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
I spend a lot of time on planes - a typical year sees me take 20 to 30 return trips per year, covering in excess of 100,000km. That’s a lot of time spent in the air and a lot of lost time if I can’t work.
At this stage, there doesn’t seem to be any plan to expand the ban to any other country or airline. But I assume that at some point someone will wake up and realise people can move freely and the potential exists for an attack to be initiated from anywhere and not just the short list of countries the current ban has tagged.
Already travellers have to take their shoes off when going through security checkpoints in the United States - after a failed attempt to detonate an explosive device hidden in a shoe. By the way, that 2001 incident was on a flight originating from Paris.
Passengers have been told to stow laptops, gaming devices and tablets in checked baggage. I’ve seen baggage handlers throw bags around and I’ve had a couple of bags damaged in transit. There’s no way I’ll be stashing my computer or tablet in checked baggage.
And there’s the issue of travel insurance covering you against theft or damage. It’s unlikely travel insurance will cover you if your laptop is lost or stolen from checked baggage.
Here’s what American Express Travel Insurance says
We will not pay… for camera equipment or Electronic Equipment whilst carried in or on any Conveyance, unless they accompany You as personal cabin baggage.
Over recent months, there have been lots of stories of travellers being detained - Muhammad Ali Jr and Mem Fox to name a couple of recent, high profile cases - following a crackdown on people airline security deem to be suspicious. Although I’m not sure how the 71 year old author of children’s book who has visited a country well over 100 times could be deemed a risk.
The continued “strengthening” of these measures is a bad thing for business. And, for many travellers, not being able to work on a plane represents a significant hit on productivity. I fly the MEL-LAX and SYD-SFO routes regularly. Those 14 hours or so are important work time for me.
While many airlines may be struggling, it’s a boom time for international travellers. In relative terms, flying is inexpensive. An article in The Atlantic suggests flight prices have fallen by 50% in 30 years. But the inconvenience of airport processing and this new ban might be enough to stop people from jumping on a plane.