ATW Editor's Blog

Ban the carry-on ban. And soon

by Karen Walker
Apr 03, 2017

The new US and UK electronics carry-on security bans continue to raise questions. But there’s zero evidence that they raise security.

That’s not a facetious comment; it’s an important point. Everyone in this industry – and the vast majority of the traveling public – understands the need for security. They recognize that airliners and airports are terrorist targets. They accept that necessary security procedures involve a certain amount of personal hassle. And no one – not the airports, the airlines nor the traveler – wants to risk an event.

But the security pact between governments and the public is not unconditional. People need to see the sense and broad logic of additional security measures, especially when they inflict considerable extra hassle.

So far, the US and UK bans – prohibiting electronic items larger than smartphones in carry-on luggage on certain flights from certain airports, most of them in Arab countries, fail the logic smell test.

First, they appear to be related to incidents that occurred months, even years ago. No “new” or recent incident has been cited. So why this peculiar ban now? US officials cited last year’s two, separate terrorist attacks on Brussels and Istanbul airports, both of which happened on the landside of the terminals, not after security screening and not onboard planes. The new security rules would not have prevented either attack.

Another huge question is why US and UK intelligence have such differing views on where this new threat lies? The US ban includes Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha airports; the UK does not because its ban excludes the UAE and Qatar. This major inconsistency severely weakens the credibility of these security measures. Passengers and flight crews are left to question who to believe - the Americans or the Brits – on where’s safe?

And logically, because no other country has followed suit, there comes the question why believe either? The US and UK are not unique in having strong intelligence and security capabilities. Yet they are apparently the only countries to have spotted a new threat, understand the specific countries and airports where this undefined threat lives, and the only ones to take action. Did they share their information with other allies around the world so that their citizens would be “safer” wherever they travel? If so, why were they ignored? Air transport security is a global, interconnected matrix; if there is risk then the remedy must be system-wide to be truly effective.

Another problem with these rules, and which make them so unlike previous security processes, is that they create severe commercial market distortions. The US ban, especially, does not directly affect any US airline but hobbles the three Gulf hub carriers at the very time that the three US majors are renewing their campaign against Gulf airline expansion. Security sits above and outside politics, but it’s hard to believe the US government did not predict the far heavier and more costly burdens its rules would inflict on the Gulf carriers (and Turkish Airlines) and therefore, at the very least, have a better explanation prepared as to why this was unavoidable.

New security processes tend to be far more quickly implemented than they are removed. How many times were we told the carry-on liquids limitation would eventually be lifted? But these new bans, given the distortions they create and the lack of information about why they are necessary, need to be made more credible and – more than anything – must be temporary.

Karen Walker

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