What to know about the new airline electronics bans

The Trump administration warns that U.S.-bound travellers from 10 airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa will be banned from carrying certain electronic devices on board, owing to fears terrorists could conceal bombs in larger devices.

Effect on Canada unclear after U.S. directive, as U.K. follows with its own ban on some electronics

The U.S. government specified that the rules would apply only in cases of direct U.S.-bound flights from the mostly Middle Eastern and North African countries. (Chris Ison/Associated Press)

The Trump administration warned Tuesday that U.S.-bound travellers from 10 airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa will be banned from carrying certain electronic devices on board, owing to fears terrorists could conceal bombs in larger devices.

The restrictions will pertain to any electronics larger than a smartphone. Laptops, iPads, cameras, tablets, e-readers, portable DVD players and hand-held gaming consoles will no longer be permitted in the cabin and must instead be kept with checked luggage.

The exact wording from the Department of Homeland Security is that personal electronic devices "larger than a cellphone or smartphone be placed in checked baggage." However, "approved medical devices" may be brought into the cabin after extra screening.

Here's what else to know about the ban:

Who is covered?

Regardless of nationality, travellers flying on non-stop flights heading to the U.S. will be subject to the in-cabin restrictions on electronics. However, travellers whose flights originate from the U.S. will not be subject to similar rules when heading abroad.

In all, eight Muslim-majority countries will be affected.

The U.S. said international airports in 10 cities are affected by the new rules. The U.K. made a similar announcement, saying airports from six countries are subject to the new rules. (CBC)

Which airports and carriers are affected?

International flights from these 10 airports will be affected:

  • Queen Alia International airport in Amman, Jordan.
  • Cairo International airport in Egypt.
  • Ataturk airport in Istanbul.
  • King Abdulaziz International in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
  • King Khalid International in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  • Kuwait International airport in Farwaniya, Kuwait.
  • Mohammed V International in Casablanca, Morocco.
  • Hamad International airport in Doha, Qatar.
  • Dubai International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
  • Abu Dhabi International Airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Affected airlines include: Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

How long will this be in effect?

Airports will have 96 hours to comply with the security order, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Airlines were officially notified of the order at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, according to a Homeland Security fact sheet.

The Department of Homeland Security has said the restrictions will be imposed indefinitely.

However, an airline spokesperson with the UAE's Emirates airline in Dubai said the directive would last until Oct. 14. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said the October date is a technicality, and that "the directive amends existing guidance" to carriers that was due to expire then.

"Should the evaluation of the threat remain the same, it will be extended prior to the expiration date for another year," a TSA spokersperson said.

An Emirates Airlines Airbus A380-800 lands in San Francisco. Emirates is among the airlines whose passengers from certain airports could be affected by a new U.S. directive banning large electronics from nonstop flights from eight Muslim-majority countries. (Reuters)

How might Canada be affected?

The U.S. government specified that the rules would apply only in cases of direct U.S.-bound flights from the mostly Middle Eastern and North African countries. However, a statement from the Royal Jordanian airline stirred confusion about how some Canada-bound travellers might get caught up in the rules.

In a tweet that has since been deleted, Royal Jordanian wrote on Monday that Montreal flights would be affected.

An updated tweet sent out on Tuesday by the carrier listed U.S. services that would be affected and again mentioned Montreal, a stopover location for Detroit-bound flights.

"The RJ stations in the US are: New York, Chicago and Detroit, in addition to Montreal, as it is served by a combined flight with Detroit."

CBC News has reached out to Royal Jordanian Airlines, Transport Canada and the Department of Homeland Security for clarification. (Homeland Security and Transport Canada both deferred to each other.)

"Please understand that is not a question that I am able to answer. I cannot speak for the Canadian government," a Homeland Security Public Affairs spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC News.

What about passengers with connecting flights?

As with passengers flying direct from any of the affected airports to the U.S., travellers transferring through any of the 10 affected airports are being advised by the TSA to pack their large personal devices in checked baggage at their originating airport.

Is this a response to specific intelligence?

Homeland Security referred to historical interest from terrorists in targeting commercial aviation. In a release, the department says "evaluated intelligence" suggests terrorist groups intending to target commercial flights could look to "smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items."

Are any other countries following the U.S.?

The U.K.  announced its own electronics restrictions for inbound flights on Tuesday, though the restrictions differ from the U.S. order with regard to laptops and tablets. The U.K. ban targets six Middle Eastern countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The U.K. is focusing on devices "larger than a normal sized mobile or smartphone," according to a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May. That's understood to be devices larger than 16 cm long, 9.3 cm wide and with a depth of 1.5 cm.

A laptop is seen on the screen of an X-ray security scanner. U.S. authorities have issued a directive restricting the use of electronics in the cabin for passengers flying direct to the U.S. from 10 airports in several Muslim-majority countries. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

At a press scrum on Tuesday, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau told reporters he had spoken with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly about the U.S. directive. Garneau said he will examine information that has been presented to him before making a decision about whether Canada might follow suit with a similar order regarding electronics on flights.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson with Transport Canada said: "A decision on whether to implement a similar ban respecting large electronics on flights to Canada will be made shortly."

How widespread will this impact be?

Homeland Security played down the scope of the enhanced security measures, saying in a release that "a small percentage" of U.S.-bound flights would be affected. The department noted that just 10 out of more than 250 airports that serve as last points of departure to the U.S. would be involved.

Some of the carriers named in the directive and operating out of the busiest hubs service direct flights to the U.S. about 50 times a day.

Will this ban be effective?

That depends to a degree on whether every country follows suit.

University of Illinois professor Sheldon Jacobson, whose research on airport screening and airline security helped lead to concepts that influenced the TSA PreCheck guidelines, stressed that the effectiveness of the electronics ban depends on buy-in from national transport agencies.

"The chain is only as strong as its weakest link," Jacobson said.

"There has to be some uniformity in implementing a policy like this." 

If there is indeed a threat, he said, "there has to be a backfill" of enforcement from partnering nations to make something like a laptop ban truly effective.

The objective of the U.S. policy appears to be to physically separate passengers from their laptops or similar devices that might be a shell for an explosive. Of course without a universal ban, a would-be terrorist could still board a flight through an unaffected airport. Presuming there is a threat, noncompliance from another country's transportation regulator could become a liability if a laptop ends up in the cabin. 

"In essence, one device would end up being the problem," Jacobson said.

Is the potential threat so great that this ban is needed?

The TSA evidently believes so, based on the intelligence it has.

"They've narrowed it down to these airports," Jacobson said. "My question is, what is the level of security available at those airports? In terms of passengers screening and baggage screening?"

Some of the affected airports are perceived as world-class in terms of how stringent screening procedures are. Jacobson questions whether such an electronics ban would be necessary if security is reliable enough.

Phil Gurski, a former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said there may be good reason to believe the intelligence is valid. The fact the U.K. has now joined means the intelligence was likely shared and was deemed to be reliable, he said.

One way or another, Jacobson said a network of compliance would be key. Otherwise, "you're going to have some people who are checking their electronic devices and some who are not, which means that I'm not sure what this would achieve."


  • A previous version of this story identified Sheldon Jacobson as a professor at the University of Chicago. In fact, he is a professor at the University of Illinois.
    Mar 21, 2017 5:01 PM ET

With files from CBC's Steven D'Souza, Allison Brachman, Matt Kwong