US and UK laptop bans cause frustration and creativity

The United States and the United Kingdom issued a ban on in-cabin electronics larger than cell phones from various countries in the Middle East on March 21.

The U.S. ban affects airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The U.K. ban is slightly different, affecting airports in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey.

While the ban affects only direct flights from the designated airports in these countries, some have taken note that the ban affects exclusively Muslim-majority nations, including U.S. and U.K. North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey.

The ban is not unprecedented, however. The ban on liquids over 3 ounces and the requirement to put shoes through Transportation Security Administration screening devices arose from a 2006 plot to use explosive liquids on an airplane and the unsuccessful 2014 plot to use a shoe-bomb.

As reported by Vox, the fact that foreign countries have followed suit and that top Democrats in Congress have also endorsed the ban—one that usually only goes in place preemptively if there is credible intelligence for an attack—lends support to the idea a legitimate threat is in play.

The ban does not prohibit people from bringing electronic devices with them, it just relegates devices larger than a cellphone to the cargo hold of the plane. Tim Hawley, former head of the TSA, was quoted in Wired’s report as stating, “You really need a big bomb to knock a plane down underneath the floor.”

The cargo hold of an airplane is heavily reinforced and any bomb will be surrounded by a bunch of luggage and suitcases—rather than people—minimizing any casualties from a would-be bomb.

Some airlines affected by the ban have had some fun by using the ban as an advertising gimmick. Royal Jordanian tweeted multiple times regarding the ban, with one tweet including a poem that reads, “Every week a new ban / Travel to the U.S. since you can / We are now poets because of you son / No one can ruin our in-flight fun / We have good tips for everyone”.

The Jordanian airline then followed up with a list of 12 things to do on a 12-hour flight without a laptop or tablet. Some of the items listed include simple things such as reading or meditating, but as the list went on the airline began to have fun and included some tips such as, “Engage in primitive dialogue from the pre-internet era,” “Pretend tray table is a keyboard,” and the last tip, “Think of reasons why you don’t have a laptop or tablet with you.”

Some other airlines have come up with methods to work around the laptop ban and allow their passengers access to their devices for as long as possible before handing them over to be checked.

State-owned Emirates Airlines will allow passengers to use their laptops past the security gates at Dubai International Airport. Just prior to boarding the flight, Emirates employees will take the banned devices and bring them to the cargo hold for the remainder of the flight.

While not entirely perfect, it does allow passengers extended use of their laptops.

Emirates CEO Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum even joked that “passengers can now justifiably give themselves a break from their devices.”