Confusion trails U.S. electronics ban for Middle East flights

Turkish Airlines

A new U.S. security measure banning large electronic devices from airliner cabins on direct flights to the U.S. from 10 Middle Eastern hubs on Tuesday left travellers in confusion.

It was unclear when the new measures at the 10 airports in eight countries would take effect, with airlines stating different commencement dates.

In Washington, the Transportation Security Administration referred “all questions regarding the new aviation security enhancements’’ to the Homeland Security Department, which declined to give further details on the ban.

The department had posted a fact sheet saying that U.S. intelligence believed that terrorist groups “continue to target commercial aviation to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items’’.

“Based on this trend, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in consultation with relevant departments and agencies has determined it is prudent to enhance security.

“This includes airport security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the U.S.,” the post said.

The Homeland Security fact sheet said there would be an emergency amendment to its security directives.

It said that the process would include industry notification to affected air carriers that would implement the requirements.

The report quoted Homeland Security officials in a Monday briefing as saying “airlines have 96 hours to comply with the new standards.’’

Other media outlets reported that the new policy went into effect at 0700 GMT on Tuesday.

Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways both confirmed the new regulation Tuesday, issuing statements that seemed to impose the policy immediately.

Emirates Airlines said in a statement that the new measures were valid from Saturday until October 14 on U.S. bound routes from Dubai.

Egypt Air said it would begin banning large electronics on its Cairo-to-New York flights starting Friday, after receiving new travel instructions from U.S. authorities.

Egypt Air also reported it received an email from JFK airport with “instructions to ban laptops, tablets, cameras, CD players and video game devices on board from its first flight which leaves to New York on Friday.’’

The ban applies to “all personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone.”

Such devices must be placed in checked baggage, except approved medical devices, which could be brought into cabins after additional screening.

The 10 affected airports, all in Muslim-majority countries, are Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait City and Riyadh.

In another development, Britain said it would follow the U.S. by banning laptops and other larger electronic devices from passenger cabins on some inbound flights from Middle Eastern and African nations.

“The prime minister has chaired a number of meetings on aviation security over the last few weeks, including this morning.

“It was agreed that new aviation security measures on all inbound direct flights to UK from the following countries will be introduced: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia,’’ Prime Minister Theresa May said.

The U.S. move follows President Donald Trump’s 90-day ban on most travellers from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and a 120-day halt to refugee approvals from around the world.

Washington is hosting a meeting this week of allies in the international coalition against the Islamic State movement, with a large number of arrivals from Muslim and Arab countries.

Turkish Transportation Minister Ahmet Arslan said the U.S. measure was “not the correct decision,’’ arguing that business travellers in particular should not be separated from work devices on the long-haul flights, which could stretch for 12 hours.

He said he had initiated contacts with U.S. authorities over the issue and warned of negative impacts on both travelling through Turkey and U.S.-Turkish relations.


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