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International air travelers might soon rediscover magazines. They might pick up paperbacks and playing cards, too.
Airline passengers have become hooked on their laptops and tablets. These allow them to get work done. Or, allow them to 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. They are worried about laptops in checked baggage being stolen or damaged, or even leaving the machine home if their employer won't let them check it on a plane. Parents are pondering how to keep children occupied.
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 to include U.S.-bound flights from Europe. It currently applies to mostly Middle Eastern flights.
The airlines are still talking to government officials about 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 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 in the Middle East. Emirates blamed the ban among factors reducing demand. The airline has scaled back flights to the U.S.
Expanding the ban to Europe will hit American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines and their European partners. And it will affect many more travelers.
Airlines fear that expanding the ban will lead to more flight delays. It also could increase the airlines' liability for theft or damage to electronics devices in checked luggage. Safety advocates worry that putting devices with lithium batteries in the cargo hold will create a fire threat.
Airline groups propose several alternatives to the laptop ban. These include more use of machines that detect residue from explosives, turning devices on to demonstrate that they are not bombs and sorting low-risk passengers from high-risk ones. These would seemingly 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 he said the laptop ban will hurt business travel. At least it will in the short term, he said.
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. That is just for one 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. Pizzarello is holding off booking a July business trip to Germany and the United Kingdom "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."
Small business consultant Gene Marks said he and many of his clients work when flying to and from Europe. Still, he tried to put the annoyance of a ban in perspective.
"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 sleeping.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why wasn’t this an issue before?
Write your answers in the comments section below