Electronics ban: what you need to know about the new carry-on restrictions

Update: The UK is set to announce a similar ban of electronic devices on certain flights soon. We'll update this piece when we hear more details.

Original: Electronic devices larger than smartphones are banned from the cabins of non-stop flights to the US departing from 10 airports and must be checked in, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Tuesday.

The impetus for the enhanced security measures is a trend by terrorist groups to target commercial aviation, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet on the ban. Terrorists have in the past smuggled explosives disguised in consumer goods, and the TSA, DHS and other agencies have reason to be concerned about terrorist groups' attempts to evade aviation security.

New intelligence also played a role in implementing the directive, and the TSA recognizes an "intensifying" effort to commit attacks against the aviation sector. 

Though the ban is not universal, it will impact all passengers on non-stop flights to the US from the 10 affected airports. Here's a breakdown of the electronics ban, including which airports are impacted, what kind of devices must be checked in and how long the ban could last.

What are the 10 airports affected?

The new restrictions currently only affect flights from 10 specific airports that serve as the last point of departure for the US, otherwise known as non-stop flights.

The overseas airports were selected based on "the current threat picture." The DHS worked with other members of the intelligence community to determine where the new security measures will be enforced. 

The DHS says a small number of flights will be affected, though the exact number will fluctuate daily. No specific airlines are affected by the restrictions; rather, every non-stop flight to the US by any airline leaving from the 10 airports will require passengers to check in large electronics.

The affected airports are: 

  • Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Jordan
  • Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Egypt
  • Ataturk International Airport (IST) in Turkey
  • King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED) in Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport (KWI) in Kuwait
  • Mohammed V Airport (CMN) in Morocco
  • Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar
  • Dubai International Airport (DXB) in United Arab Emirates
  • Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in United Arab Emirates

More airports could be added in the future, including ones in the US, as threats change. 

While affected airlines know of the requirements and must enforce them, they can communicate and implement the new measures in a way that fits their business model, according to the agencies. 

What devices are banned from plane cabins?

The government agencies are using cell phones/smartphones as the measuring stick for restricted electronics with the understanding most air travelers are familiar with the devices. Any device larger than commonly available smartphones cannot be inside a plane cabin either as carry-on luggage or accessible to passengers in any way.

If you're not sure if your smartphone meets the size requirements, you can check with your airline to see if your device is restricted. Medical devices that meet approval can be brought in the cabin after additional security screening.

Examples of electronic devices that must be checked in and are banned from the cabin of affected flights include, but aren't limited to:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • E-readers
  • Cameras
  • Portable DVD players
  • Electronic game units larger than a smartphone
  • Travel printers/scanners

Many of these devices are common carry-on items, with passengers passing the time on flights watching movies on tablets and laptops, doing work or reading on devices like the Amazon Kindle. 

"Electronic game units larger than a smartphone" would include the Nintendo Switch, which launched earlier in March and is the size of a large handheld. While the device is portable, it will almost certainly be restricted in the cabin of flights impacted by the ban.

One point of confusion in the restrictions is that lithium-ion batteries are typically a no-no in checked bags because of their volatile nature. The TSA made no mention of any possible conflict between lithium-ion regulations and the new restrictions, and we've asked a DHS spokesperson for further clarification.

Is the ban in place right now and how long will it last?

Airlines have 96 hours to become compliant with the new security measures from 8am ET on March 21. 

Once in place, the ban is in effect until the threat changes, and there's no timeline for when that will be. The TSA and DHS will continue to monitor and assess risks and base decisions on security needs, making changes to policy as intelligence dictates. 

Are flights leaving from the US affected?

No. Domestic flights and international flights departing from the US aren't affected by the new security measures. There is no restriction on electronic devices on any flight originating in the US. 

Is air travel safe?

New security measures may understandably make some feel uneasy about air travel. The TSA says flying is safe and cites a "robust security system" that relies on multiple layers of security with helping to keep travelers secure.

By assessing and evaluating threats and changing security measures accordingly, as is the case with the new restrictions, the TSA says it aims to maintain security without unduly disrupting travelers. 

If you are traveling on a non-stop flight to the US from one of the affected airports, be advised to check your large electronic devices in with your luggage before your flight. If you're unsure whether your smartphone will be allowed in the cabin, contact your airline for guidance. 

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