U.S., U.K. begin electronics ban on flights from several Muslim-majority countries

New travel restrictions on direct flights to Britain and the United States from several Muslim-majority countries take effect today, meaning electronic devices larger than a cellphone must be placed in checked baggage.

Laptops and tablets among items not allowed in carry-on luggage

The U.S. government is banning most electronic devices, including laptops and tablets but not cellphones, on flights from eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The U.K. restrictions cover flights from six countries. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

New travel restrictions on direct flights to Britain and the United States from several Muslim-majority countries take effect today, meaning electronic devices larger than a cellphone must be placed in checked baggage.

For U.S.-bound flights, it's an extra hassle for passengers wishing to use laptops and tablets after leaving from one of 10 airports in eight countries — including Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The British restrictions cover passengers from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia.

The electronics ban is causing a rash of complaints from travellers flying out of Istanbul's  Ataturk airport, which has spent years building its position as an international hub.

"I think that this will decrease the number of passengers flying with Turkish Airlines," said passenger Aytul Korkmaz. "I mean, the transfer of passengers in Istanbul, because I know that many passengers from the Middle East are flying to the U.S. through Istanbul. I think they will prefer other places now."

Istanbul busy transit hub

More than half of international passengers using Turkish Airlines are transit customers who could instead travel through Europe or other hubs. Some in Turkey say the new restriction could undermine the Turkish aviation industry.

The electronics ban creates "unfair competition," said Turkey's Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan.

"Security measures are more important than passengers' comfort, but if you impose security measures in one place and do not implement it in another place, we would interpret it differently. We would think there are other intentions behind this (ban)," he said.

Nalan Lawson, a dual American-Turkish citizen, lives in Istanbul but goes back to the U.S. about once a year. As someone who is self-employed and a student — doing her masters in nutrition, online at an American university — she uses the 13-hour flight to Los Angeles to work on her laptop. Now, she feels increasingly targeted simply because of who she is and where's she's flying from.

"I think it's probably prejudice. I think they're just against Muslims," Lawson told CBC News.

The affected airlines were given until Saturday to implement the new rules, announced last Tuesday as a result of intelligence showing a risk for threats against commercial aviation.

"[Ataturk] airport is so secured. The security level is so high compared to other airports in the rest of this part of the world. So why do that from here?" asked traveller Haggai Mazursky on Saturday.

Another said the bans disrespect people and amounts to discrimination.

"If you say like this, you will say everybody can be terrorist. It's not respectful to people and for Turkish people. I think it's not good," said another passenger.

Turkey's foreign ministry said on Thursday that talks are underway to try to persuade the U.S. and Britain to exclude Turkish Airlines and Istanbul airport from the bans. 

Turkish Airlines says devices banned from the cabin during flights to U.S. and British cities can be collected from passengers at the gate and stowed in a hard case. (Turkish Airlines/YouTube)

For passengers not wanting to place their electronics in checked baggage, devices were being handed over to be tagged at the boarding gate for transportation at the Istanbul airport. They were then to be handed back to passengers upon arrival.

The Turkish news agency Dogan, or DHA, said passengers could be seen putting their laptops and tablets into bubble-wrap plastic bags in order to give to the airlines crew at the boarding gate of Istanbul's Ataturk airport. The tagged devices were then stowed in a larger hard case for transport.

So far, one flight to Canada is known to be affected. Royal Jordanian airlines said in a statement earlier in the week that a flight from Amman, Jordan, to Montreal will be under the ban because the flight is combined with one to Detroit.

With files from CBC's Nil Köksal and Reuters