(Author’s note: I wrote and submitted this article prior to Monday’s heinous bombing of a concert in Manchester. This news, coupled with the news that the man arrested for bizarre behavior on the American Airlines flight to Honolulu had only been traveling with a laptop, puts a slightly new spin on things. The question of “is this the right approach?” still needs to be discussed, but the answer is a bit murkier for me today than yesterday. Where do you stand?)
Terrorism has been a growing fear for travelers not only in the US but worldwide, and the recent laptop ban from several Middle Eastern countries has been a direct reflection of that. Those fears gained foundation for some during the recent incident on the American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, in which a Turkish man’s erratic behavior involving his computer and an alleged attempt to gain access to the cockpit earned him his second arrest of the day and the flight an F-16 fighter jet escort.
The large electronics ban, which is expected to extend to flights bound for the United States from Europe in the near future, has had an impact on ticket sales, as business travelers are both reluctant to surrender their personal electronics containing confidential information as well as well as lose hours of productivity during flying. Instead, companies are preferring employees to use online meeting platforms as opposed to traveling abroad and facing the risks involved. Not only are business travelers left wondering what to do with all those hours with nothing to do, but now that more airlines have opted to do away with seatback video monitors in favor of wifi-based content, most people will be left scrambling for a good book or watching the clouds pass by. (On second thought, this isn’t sounding so bad.) But what does sound bad is the potential impact that the expanded ban will have on ticket sales – Alexandre de Juniac, who heads the International Air Transport Association, estimates that passengers will end up shouldering about $1 billion in costs. And as airlines are suffering a PR crisis that companies as well as politicians are scrambling to remedy by ending practices such as overbooking and cramming fewer seats into cabins, we are likely to see ticket prices reach highs we haven’t seen in years.
The other very realistic worry is that of lithium battery fires in the cargo hold. These high-energy fires have been a growing concern for the airlines, and it’s become more evident as warnings regarding cell phones and other devices being crushed in seats have even made their way into some airline pre-flight safety briefings. There’s good reason for this, as these fires can develop quickly and take longer to extinguish. For this to take place in the cargo hold of an airplane instead of a cabin full of people could result in tragedy – and is already thought to have been the cause of two fatal crashes.
Few us are privy to the intelligence that is bringing this new security practice about, but one can only hope that this ban has a point. Too much of airport security these days seems to be for show, and if this ban is purely to lull us into a false sense of security, it will be responsible for much more harm than good. The impact that this ban could directly have on aircraft safety as well as the industry and economy is too great. People often say that the terrorists win only when we live our lives in fear, and I can only wonder if this is a battle checked off in their favor.