You may have heard by now that the US issued a new directive today preventing passengers from carrying electronics larger than a cellphone onto flights from 10 airports in 8 majority-Muslim countries for the forseeable future. In the administration’s ongoing war on foreigners in general and Muslim countries in particular, this may seem like a minor skirmish. But let’s break down all the reasons it sucks.
1. The countries from the travel ban aren’t listed here. We don’t trust those governments to vet their citizens well enough to issue visas, but we trust their airports?
2. The airports that are listed are the major travel hubs in the Middle East (and Turkey): Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
3. The purported reason for the restriction is to address gaps in foreign airport security. American-bound passengers anywhere in the world are already required to go through tighter security checks that adhere to the US’s standards. As this article points out, “Abu Dhabi is one of 15 airports in the world to employ the Homeland Security preclearance techniques.” As someone who has travelled through Dubai, I distinctly remember going through a second, stricter security check just to enter the gate where my flight to Dallas would depart and having to wait in the corridor for the (I think American) security people to show up and open the checkpoint.
4. Many of these countries are wealthy and cater to business from the West. They are also hubs for local international carriers that cater to the South Asian diaspora in the US traveling back and forth between their two homes. Emirates Air, Etihad, and Quatar Airlines are three of the most popular airlines for these travelers because they are comfortable, relatively affordable, one-stop flights. These carriers have a vested interest in maintaining high levels of security to ensure the safety of their passengers and protect their revenue stream.
5. Luggage on these long flights is checked at the point of entry and picked up at the point of departure. So, in order to comply with these ridiculous restrictions, passengers have to check their electronics in India. It’s a 4-5 hour flight to the Mideast and a 14-16 hour flight to the US from there. Plus, these carriers all have long layovers (and plane transfers) in their home countries. (It used to be 12 hours in Dubai.) So we’re talking about around 24+ hours of travel hell without your e-books, movies, mobile games, catching up on email, catching up on homework/real work, etc. Good luck traveling with kids!
6. If electronics really are at risk of being used by terrorists to smuggle bombs onto planes, this restriction should have been deployed much more widely.
Look, we get that these are “first world problems” (even though the Middle East and South Asia are not generally considered “first world). That’s not the point. In a world where mobile devices are an essential part of our lives, this is just another form of harassment against brown people. It’s going to hurt the airlines and the economies of the countries where they are based. And, once again, it just antagonizes our allies needlessly. Did I mention a number of Arab officials are scheduled to attend tomorrow’s meeting of the US-led coalition against ISIS at the State Department? Excellent strategy to insult them with this pointless bullshit before asking for their help!
Also, it needs to be said – if you’re using your laptop to smuggle a bomb on a plane, does it really matter if it’s in your carry-on or checked luggage? IT’S STILL ON THE DAMN PLANE!
Note #1: Medical devices are expected to be exempt from the ban.
Note #2: The British government has joined in on these asinine restrictions, though theirs only applies to six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, and Tunisia. Note that Kuwait, Morocco, Quatar, and the UAE are not included, while Lebanon and Tunisia are added. The British restriction also allows laptops and tablets under 16.0cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm, which seems like it would include most tablets, e-readers and many small laptops.