On the afternoon of March 21, if you scrolled down on your Facebook or Twitter timeline, what you would have seen was a whole lot of news articles regarding the new electronics ban that will soon be implemented by the United States and the United Kingdom. The ban, first announced by Royal Jordanian Air with a tweet, has implications on both travelers and airline companies. So far, what we know is electronic devices larger than the size of a cellphone are indefinitely banned from the passenger cabins on U.S.-bound flights from 10 Muslim-majority countries.
According to a research done by the World Travel & Tourism Council and Oxford Economics, the travel industry's direct contribution to the world's total GDP ($7.6 trillion) reached 10.2 percent in 2016. In the U.S. alone, the travel and tourism sector contributed 8.1 percent of the country's $12 trillion GDP in 2016. Despite the fact that previous bans were halted by U.S. courts, it will already cost to the U.S. economy $5.4 billion. Although the previous two bans included travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, because of the perception created by the administration, other minorities are also afraid of traveling to the country. Ethnic travelers who tend to fly mostly during summer, unless there is urgency, buy airplane tickets between mid-January and April. So far, most families have either held back on their travel plans for this year or have postponed them all together.
News outlets were so ready to take on the issue and articles were quickly put together, with both opposing and supporting comments from the industry and security experts. Newsweek shared an expert's view on the issue saying that if terrorists used such devices as explosives it would much harder for security forces to safely detonate and dispose of them in the cargo area of the aircraft. Another expert in the same article brings up the issue of the discriminatory nature of the ban. One argued that through advanced code-share agreements among airlines, a laptop that was banned on an incoming flight can be brought onto the passenger cabin of another flight in the U.S. CNN has asked travelers their thoughts on the issue and they received a lot of different responses. A parent, flying with his autistic daughter who relies on her laptop to keep her calm during a long flight opposed the ban. Another traveler, who flies for business purposes, said that he spends most of the flight time catching up with work.
So where did this idea of banning electronics come from? According to an intelligence source, who talked to the Daily Beast, a raid in Yemen is the cause of the ban. The fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reiterates the article. It is believed that the battery bombs could only be activated manually, and this ban is the answer to the problem. Quartz shared the number of effected flights as 19,619 and up to 6.75 million passengers in next 12 months according to the planestats.com.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) urges countries to balance the security measures. Turkey is to take up the ban with ICAO in order to remove Istanbul from the list. Since this ban will directly affect those ten nations' flag carriers, the economic impact on such airlines will be tremendous due to cancellations as a result of the security concerns of passengers. One thing an airline can offer its passengers, especially to its business class cabin, can be an environment to work on their laptops during their 10-hour average flights to various U.S. cities. New security measures might create a perception among travelers to re-book their flight with other airlines. Guess, who those would be?
The airline industry has already seen harsh competition. Up until now, the competition was in the air, regarding the number of destinations flown, in-flight service, ticket prices, lounge services and customer services. U.S.-based airlines have long been complaining about the Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar) that receive subsidies from their governments.In the meeting with the newly elected U.S. president, industry leaders certainly brought the issue up. International regulations require airlines to be independent from their host countries. Traditionally, flag carriers, who are mostly started by governments, receive a hand from yearly budgets.
Some say that the ban is necessary to prevent possible attacks on aircraft; others think that it is discriminatory in nature and its narrowness of coverage. The U.K. Aviation Authority announced that it will soon start to implement the ban while excluding Gulf countries and the Canadian transportation minister said that they are considering taking measures as well. Hopefully, before this trend begins to damage the profitability of airline companies and the images of the effected countries, further explanations are made to travelers who are becoming more and more afraid of traveling. Until further notice by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the ban will remain.,
*U.S.-based independent researcher