White House may hold off on extending 'laptop ban' to Europe

USA anti-terrorism officials met for four hours Wednesday in Brussels with their European counterparts who are resisting a proposed expansion of a laptop ban in airline passenger cabins.

Enrico Brivio said officials were expected to "carry out a threat assessment" and exchange information during the "high level" meeting.

The Washington Post and other news organizations on Monday reported that President Donald Trump gave Russia's foreign minister and ambassador closely held intelligence obtained from a U.S. partner about an Islamic State terrorist plot to use laptops as possible weapons aboard commercial aircraft.

On Wednesday, U.S. Homeland Security officials were in Brussels talking with European Union leaders about possibly banning those devices on flights from Europe too.

Banning large electronics would create logistical chaos on the world's busiest corridor of air travel — as many as 65 million people a year travel between Europe and North American on almost 400 daily flights, many of them business travelers who rely on the devices to work during the flight.

While the Mideast moratorium affects 350 USA -bound flights per week, extending it to the 28 European Union states plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland would impact 390 a day, or more than 2,500 a week, IATA reckons.

Since many companies do not allow their employees to check their computers out of fear that sensitive information could be exposed, many business travelers will have to forego traveling to America altogether.

A congressional official said it appeared that Homeland Security was likely to expand the ban soon, but did not say when or to what airports. That may not be the case, though, as a new report suggests that a ban on laptops on flights out of Europe is "off the table".

The U.S. administration official said intelligence "continues to point to terrorist groups targeting commercial aviation and they are gradually pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks including smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items". European Union officials have also asked the United States to share its intelligence, saying they don't see evidence for restrictions.

In his letter, de Juniac urged short-term measures including additional screening at checkpoints to inspect devices.

There was an outcry in Europe when media reports started circulating that the United States was considering a ban on laptops, tablets and some phones in the cabin of all flights across the Atlantic over fears that it had intelligence that terrorists were considering concealing bombs in them.

Banning laptops on flights from Europe would hit business travelers hardest, IATA argued, saying such a ban would keep executives and others from working during the long transatlantic flights.

Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline, this month cited the ban on electronics as one of the reasons for an 80 percent drop in profits a year ago. "We explained that. And our response should be one in common", Brivio said, voicing European concerns that the United States was about to take unilateral action.

After Homeland Security implemented the ban on incoming flights from the Middle East in March it did not clarify if the laptop ban would be extended to other countries, but its site noted "as threats change, so too will TSA's security requirements".

Earlier this month, CBS News reported talks were underway about expanding the laptop ban to cover flights between the USA from Europe.

New security measures could result in major logistical disruptions at airports, and airlines might face reduced demand for lucrative tickets.

  • Zachary Reyes