Sunday 20 January 2019

10 reasons airline laptop bans are a bad idea - from air rage to catastrophic fires

Laptop Ban

In-flight WiFi. Photo: Getty
In-flight WiFi. Photo: Getty
A young man using a laptop in an airport terminal
Airplane interior. Stock photo: Deposit
Boarding an airplane. Photo: Deposit
Stock photo: Deposit Photos

Natalie Paris

A US ban on laptops and tablets from flight cabins may soon be extended to include services from the UK and Europe.

European and American officials are preparing to discuss the new rules, which apply to electronic gadgets larger than a smartphone.

Security concerns led to the US banning the devices from cabins on flights from a number of Middle Eastern countries in March, with a similar British ban applying to flights to the UK from six countries: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.

Here are 10 reasons why banishing laptops to the hold is a bad idea.

1. Lithium batteries can cause a fire

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), responsible for safe flying in 32 countries, states that personal electronic devices (PED) carry a fire risk due to their lithium batteries.

E-cigarettes are also powered by lithium batteries and are already prohibited from checked baggage by both the US Department of Transportation and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority due to their volatility.

Airplane interior. Stock photo: Deposit
Airplane interior. Stock photo: Deposit

"As the range of products using batteries grows, the potential for in-flight issues increases," said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau recently, following an incident where the batteries in a woman’s headphones caught fire.

2. There is a greater risk of a fire going unnoticed in the hold

The EASA has recommended that personal electronic devices should preferably be carried inside passenger cabins so that any problems could be identified and dealt with.

It warned: "When the carriage of PEDs in the cabin is not allowed, it leads to a significant increase of the number of PEDs in the cargo compartment. Certain precautions should therefore be observed to mitigate the risk of accidental fire in the cargo hold."

"Even if lithium-ion batteries are put in checked luggage, there is still a fire risk associated with them," agrees Mike Zimmerman, CEO and Founder of Ionic Materials, a company that develops battery materials. "In fact, having people pack electronic devices in checked bags could prove to be more harmful than allowing passengers to carry them on the plane, since there would be no way to extinguish a fire in the cargo hold."

Laurie Price, former Aviation Advisor to the Transport Select Committee and a private pilot, told the Independent: "We have had numerous incidents of devices with lithium batteries suddenly bursting into flames. If that is in the aircraft cabin, it can be dealt with. If in the aircraft hold, the fire-suppression systems are unlikely to be able to contain it and there is a lot of material to exacerbate such fires including other baggage, the aircraft structure, fuel and systems in an area which is inaccessible in flight. The consequences could be catastrophic."

3. Switching devices off won’t help

Terrorists - or in fact anyone - can very simply programme their laptop to "wake up" at a certain time, making attempts by security staff to ensure that devices are switched off when put in the hold pointless.

An airplane. Photo: Deposit
An airplane. Photo: Deposit

4. Queues at airports might grow

Heathrow Airport in particular is likely to be affected by increased security checks, as it’s here that many flights to the US depart, with New York being one of the airport's most popular destinations. If every US-bound flight ends up requiring extra checks, passengers appear likely to spend longer queuing at the airport.

5. The ban could spark a rise in air rage

Security expert Philip Baum believes the additional security restrictions could increase the number of unruly passengers on flights.

He says: "What we should be doing is concentrating more on people’s behaviour and negative intent rather than just adding more and more items to prohibitive lists, especially if they pose no threat."

While he does not support the ban, Baum warns that the measures now need to be followed through.

"If you don’t implement the security controls, it’s even more ridiculous. The only people who will suffer will be law-abiding citizens," he said. "Traditionally it’s very hard to retract measures that are put in place, but God forbid this should become the international standard."

6. Gadget insurance might be invalidated

Thousands of travellers face having their gadgets' insurance cover invalidated by the ban, though many companies have now rushed to update the policies they offer to include damage to, or the loss of, items placed in the hold.

Air passengers are advised to check with their insurance company before they travel and ask specifically whether their current policy covers them for items carried in the hold. If not, they can ask about an extension, or a policy that does.

A young man using a laptop in an airport terminal
A young man using a laptop in an airport terminal

7. Business travellers might be dissuaded from flying

If they can’t work on a flight, business travellers - whose fares are mostly paid for by their employers - may end up flying less.

This in turn might have a serious negative impact on transatlantic travel, suggested a spokeswoman for travel booking company Travelzoo.

"This time last year, nearly 20pc of all visits in May from the UK to the US were business related," she added. "According to reports business travellers spent $293 billion dollars in the US last year, $47 billion more than was contributed by tourists visiting the country."

Already, the policies are taking a toll on airlines. Emirates recently announced a 70pc dip in profits for its financial year, a fall it blamed in part due to "destabilising events" such as Brexit, terror attacks and "new policies impacting air travel into the US."

8. Others might also be put off travelling

A recent poll from Holiday Extras suggested that more than a third of Britons questioned would reconsider their flight plans if they were forced to be without their devices during the journey. Almost a fifth of those surveyed (18 per cent) said that concerns about the safety of their devices would stop them from flying.

9. Air fares could rise

"If fewer people - especially business people - travelled as a result of a laptop ban, then it is possible that it might eventually lead to higher fares or a reduction in services," says Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel's consumer advice expert.

Boarding an airplane. Photo: Deposit
Boarding an airplane. Photo: Deposit

"But obviously, it would entirely depend on the extent of the fall in passenger numbers. And it's worth remembering that the impact on airlines and fares would be far greater if an aircraft was actually brought down by a laptop bomb operated by a passenger."

10. Free airline laptops carry their own risks

Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways have found a way around the laptop ban, for business-class passengers at least, and have been lending them laptops for free as they board. Both also reduced the cost of their Wi-Fi on board.

However, as a Travelzoo spokeswoman noted: "This is not a long term solution and poses many issues for travellers, and their businesses, around data protection and security.

There is some doubt also as to whether carriers affected by the UK restrictions will follow suit and offer devices to passengers.

We contacted several carriers, including British Airways and Thomas Cook, but none could confirm whether free iPads or laptops were on the cards.

Read more:

US set to ban laptops on flights from Europe, reports say

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