UK bans laptops and tablets on flights from six Middle East countries
Nothing larger than smartphone allowed in cabins on planes from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia
The UK government has announced a sweeping cabin ban on laptops and tablets on inbound flights from six countries, following a similar move by the US on Monday.
The UK ban on any electronic item larger than a normal smartphone applies to all direct passenger flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Six UK airlines British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson and eight foreign carriers are affected.
Though the restrictions, effective immediately, will not apply to flights where UK travellers change planes in European airports, it is likely other European countries are considering similar restrictions.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said the UK had been in close touch with the US to understand their approach.
We understand the frustration that these measures may cause and we are working with the aviation industry to minimise any impact, he said in a written statement to parliament announcing the change. Our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals.
Grayling said the government was not currently advising against flying to or from the countries affected: We remain open for business. People should continue to fly and comply with security procedures.
Government sources stressed the decision was not connected to Donald Trumps ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries travelling to the US. It is understood the ban was not regarded by British security agencies as a response to a specific terrorist threat but a general concern about evolving terrorist methods. A government source said Theresa May had held a number of meetings in the past few weeks about air security. A final decision on a ban was taken on Tuesday morning.
Passengers boarding flights to the UK from the countries affected will not be allowed to take any phones, laptops or tablets larger than a normal smartphone specified as 16cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm (6.2in x 3.6in x 0.5in).
Any such devices will need to be placed in hold luggage. The restrictions have no time limit and will apply until further notice, a Downing Street spokesman said.
No restrictions will apply to larger smartphones, including the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which are under the size restriction. However, many reading devices, including Kindles, are too large and will not be allowed in cabin baggage.
In a statement, British Airways said it advised customers to arrive in good time for check-in but flights continue to operate as normal. Thomas Cook said it had been advised that restrictions applied to duty-free purchase of the devices in airport shops. The airline advised customers to make the necessary arrangements to pack laptops, tablets and e-readers securely into hold luggage to be checked-in before going through security.
The US ban is vaguer in one sense, in that applies to anything larger than a smartphone, but more specific in another, in that applies only to nine Middle Eastern, north African and Turkish airlines, flying from 10 specific airports.
Affected airports include Dubai international and Abu Dhabi international in the United Arab Emirates, which is not one of the countries included in the UK ban. None of the airports are in countries covered by the Trump administrations travel ban.
In a statement on Tuesday, the US Department for Homeland Security said: The US government is concerned about terrorists ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years, as evidenced by the 2015 airliner downing in Egypt; the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia; and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul.
Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.
Airlines have been given until Saturday to enforce the US ban. A UK government spokesman said airlines would also have a number of days to enforce the UK restrictions.
Canadas transportation minister said on Tuesday that it too was considering prohibiting personal electronics onboard flights from Turkey, the Middle East and north Africa. We are looking at the information that has been presented to us, well look at it carefully and have a fulsome discussion amongst our colleagues, Marc Garneau told reporters. The [threat] information, he said, has been provided to us by other intelligence communities.
The Turkish ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kl, described the US and UK moves as unacceptable and impractical, and claimed western intelligence made no attempt to check Istanbul airport before imposing the ban, so giving Turkey no chance to adapt security. Turkeys transportation minister, Ahmet Arslan, said he was in talks with officials to stop or soften the restrictions.
Technical experts said the bans served no credible security purpose.