Friday, 24 March 2017

Tips for travellers about the "Muslim laptop ban"

The “Muslim laptop ban” goes into effect today: The U.S. government has ordered airlines to prevent passengers from bringing laptop or tablet computers or other electronic devices “larger than a cellphone” (whatever that means) on their person or in carry-on baggage on direct flights between 10 airports in countries with predominantly Muslim populations in the “Middle East” (West Asia) and North Africa and the USA.

These items will still be allowed on these flights in checked luggage, where either lithium batteries or explosives pose a greater danger because in-flight fires are harder to detect or put out in the cargo hold than in the passenger compartment.

According to a report by Kaveh Waddell in The Atlantic (in which I’m also quoted), “The ban was communicated to the relevant airlines and airports at 3 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, in the form of an emergency amendment to a security directive. From that point, the airlines and airports will have 96 hours to comply.”

Many others including airline pilot Patrick Smith (“Ask The Pilot”) and experts interviewed by the Guardian (here and here) and the Washington Post have made the point that the Muslim laptop ban uses “security” as a pretext for trade sanctions (no US-based airlines serve any of the airports subjected to the laptop ban, which include the hub airports of airlines with which US-based airlines have been fighting a trade war) and Islamophobic harassment (the affected flights are those on which the largest numbers of citizens of countries that President Trump tried to ban from the US, but which the courts have at least temporarily enjoined him from excluding from the US, are likely to arrive).

Aside from making the US government look more bigoted and stupid, it remains to be seen whether the Muslim laptop ban will affect travellers’ choices of airlines or force carriers like Turkish Airlines to lower their fares even further to offset the disadvantage (especially for the most profitable business travellers) of not being able to work (or play games) on laptops in flight.

But what does the Muslim laptop ban actually mean for travellers?

What are the rules? There are no “rules”, in any normal sense of that word. Airlines have been given orders by the DHS, in the form of “Security Directives”. But those orders are secret. Airlines can, and often do, make things up out of ignorance or to serve their own profits, and blame them on the government. In this case, the orders are probably real, and certainly disliked by the airlines to which they apply (although welcomed by their US-based competitors). But, “The government made us do it,” is a great excuse for anything airlines want to do — especially when it’s impossible for passengers to tell if it’s true.

Is this legal? Nobody knows. It’s almost impossible for travellers to challenge the orders given by the government to the airlines. Airlines have standing to challenge these orders in court, but none of them have done so. It’s one more example of the craven complicity of airlines in government harassment and infringement of the rights of travellers — including airline complicity in, and failure to challenge, President Trump’s Muslim ban.

But how can I tell what I will be allowed to carry on? You can’t. Even before the Muslim laptop ban, and regardless of what the government requires, airlines reserve the right to make you check your bags, including whatever you planned to carry on. Their tariff and conditions of carriage, as of the time your buy your ticket, give you a contractual right to have a certain amount of luggage transported to your ticketed destination. But they don’t guarantee that any of your luggage will be transported in the passenger cabin, or even on the same plane, just as they don’t guarantee that you will be transported on the original schedule or routing. As long as you and your luggage are delivered to your destination without being charged extra, the airline has fulfilled its contractual obligations even if it requires you to check your carry-on sized bag, and sends it on a different flight or different set of connecting flights than you are on.

Here’s how I explained it in “The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World”:

What Are You Allowed to Carry On? Don’t rely on this or any book or Web site to tell you which specific items you will or won’t be allowed to carry on. There is no way to know for sure until you try. The “rules” can change at any time, and much is left to the discretion of the people searching you and your bags. In the USA, the TSA refused to show me the rules when I asked for them under the Freedom of Information Act, and told me that it would “create public confusion” for people to rely on TSA press releases or their Web site. If you aren’t sure about something, try to ask the checkpoint staff about it before you check in, so that you can move it to your checked baggage if they say you can’t carry it on.

So what am I supposed to do? Be prepared. Don’t count on being able to carry any of luggage on the plane with you, or having any of your luggage or any working electronics right away when you get off the plane at your destination. Segregate the smallest amount of the most essential items (passport, money, credit and ATM cards, prescription and any other essential medications, printouts of your itinerary and other documents you would need right away on arrival if your laptop or tablet and the rest of your luggage goes missing for a few days and your cellphone dies) in a small bag or pouch that you can quickly pull out of your “carry-on” bag if you unexpectedly have to check it. Don’t rely on data “in the cloud” that can be deleted by anyone who gets the password to your account. Consider carrying a backup of your data (including your contacts and any other key data from your phone as well as from your laptop or tablet) on your person, separate from your phone, on an encrypted memory card. Consider setting up your laptop to run off an encrypted memory card, so you can carry all your data with you even if you have to check your laptop. Do the same with your phone: Set it up to store as much of your data as possible on a removable memory card, so you can carry a separate backup and won’t lose you data if your phone dies or is lost or stolen.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 24 March 2017, 12:27 (12:27 PM)

"About That Laptop Ban" (by Clif Burns, Export Law Blog, 24 March 2017):

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 25 March 2017, 09:58 ( 9:58 AM)
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