International air travelers might soon rediscover magazines. And paperbacks. And playing cards, too.
Airline passengers have become hooked on their laptops and tablets. The machines help to get work done. Or, they help just to kill time during long flights. But U.S. aviation-security officials appear determined to ban large electronic devices in the cabin of flights from Europe.
Business travelers are worried about lost productivity. Laptops in checked baggage could be stolen or damaged. Travelers could leave the machine home if their employer won't let them check it on a plane. Parents also are thinking about how to keep children busy.
Now, U.S. and European Union officials have exchanged information about threats to aviation. These are believed to include bombs hidden in laptop computers. Airline and travel groups are concerned about the possibility that a ban on laptops and tablet computers will be expanded. It currently applies to mostly Middle Eastern flights. The ban could soon include U.S.-bound flights from Europe.
The airlines are still talking to government officials. The airlines want to know how a laptop ban would look at European airports. It will require one set of screening rules for U.S.-bound travelers. Another set of rules would be required for people headed elsewhere.
Nearly 400 flights leave Europe for the U.S. each day. They carry about 85,000 people. This is according to the airline industry and U.S. government figures.
The laptop ban in March covered far fewer flights. It is about 50 on an average day. It hurt Middle Eastern carriers. That is because the ban targeted their hub airports. Emirates blamed the ban among factors reducing demand when it scaled back flights to the U.S.
Expanding the ban to Europe will hit American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. It will also impact their European partners. It will affect many more travelers.
Airlines also fear that expanding the ban will lead to more flight delays. It will increase their liability for theft or damage to electronics devices in checked luggage. Safety advocates are worried. They say that putting devices with lithium batteries in the cargo hold could create a fire threat.
Airline groups offer several different ideas to the laptop ban. These include more use of machines that detect residue from explosives. And, turning devices on to show that they are not bombs. They could sort low-risk passengers from high-risk ones. This would likely let frequent travelers keep their laptops in the cabin.
Michael McCormick is the executive director of the Global Business Travel Association. He said he believes the threat identified by security officials is real. But the laptop ban will hurt business travel, he said. This may only be in the short term.
The International Air Transport Association is a trade group. It represents global airlines. The association said banning laptops in the cabin would cost passengers $1.1 billion. This amount is for a year.
"Businesses will cancel trips rather than risk having laptops checked due to risk to confidential information," said the group's CEO. He is Alexandre de Juniac.
Edward Pizzarello is an investor in a Washington-area venture-capital firm. He also writes a travel blog. He said he is holding off booking a July business trip. He planned to travel to Germany and the United Kingdom.
Pizzarello said he'll wait "until I figure out what's going on."
"Maybe I don't take the trip," he said. "That's one of the options. It's not my first option."
Gene Marks is a small business consultant. He said he and many of his clients work when flying to and from Europe. He tried to look at the annoyance of a computer ban from another angle.
"I would be more anxious if there was a bomb on my flight," Marks said. Besides, he said, he sees plenty of business travelers who spend the flight doing something else. They sleep.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why wasn’t this an issue before?
Write your answers in the comments section below