Travelers are trying to figure out how to deal with new government rules placing an indefinite ban on electronic devices larger than smartphones from the cabins of commercial aircraft flying to both the United States and the United Kingdom from certain countries.
Canada is also considering joining the electronics ban for flights.
Here are some tips and things to consider if you’re booked on one of these flights, taken from my story on this topic for NBC News Travel.
In the United States, the ban covers nine airlines (Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabia Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates Air and Etihad Airways) and direct flights to the U.S. from 10 specific airports listed here.
In the United Kingdom, the ban covers inbound flights from six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
“The ban means there is probably intelligence indicating a terrorist group or individual has been planning to detonate a device on board a commercial airplane, using an electronic to either hide an explosive, or as a triggering device for an explosive,” said aviation safety and security expert Jeff Price.
The ban also means that, for the foreseeable future, travelers booked on more than 125 affected flights a day to the US and UK will have to put devices such as tablets, e-readers, cameras, laptops, portable DVD players, portable printers and scanners and video games in checked baggage.
Travelers are concerned not only about how they will spend their time during flights, but the fate of the devices checked in airplane holds.
“Am I seriously going to check a $3-5K dollar camera? Not a chance,” said Washington, D.C. –based writer and photographer Emily Troutman, via Twitter.
As the bans begin to go into effect, experts are sharing advice and tips for those currently booked – or about to be booked – on the affected flights.
“Back up all your data and save it to the cloud, arrive at the airport early, bring your phone charger or buy one at the airport, and bring some good material,” suggests travel pro Johnny Jet in a web post and try switching to connecting instead of a direct flight from one of the affected airports. “If you’re booked on the Emirate non-stop from Dubai to the U.S., you can also see if they’ll move you to one of their one-stops through Milan or Athens,” he said.
Other travel experts suggest loading work files, books, games and other entertainment onto phones and purchasing or bringing along an external keyboard to make typing and accessing the information easier.
“Upgrading to a larger memory phone might be in order,” said Farecompare CEO Rick Seaney, whose research shows the ban will initially affect approximately 126 flights a day to the US and UK, with over 40,000 potentially inconvenienced fliers.
Families traveling with children, who have come to rely on movie and game-filled tablets for entertainment, should make sure to pack “some good old-fashioned unplugged entertainment, such as books, puzzle books, and coloring pads,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert at About.com.
And this may be a good time to explore the offerings on the affected airlines’ in-flight entertainment, some of which is quite extensive.
Not long after the ban was announced, Middle East carrier Emirates posted a “Who Needs Tablet and Laptops Anyway?” Tweet with a reminder that the airline offers “Over 2500 channels of the latest, movies, box sets, live sport and kids TV.”
While in-flight entertainment on a long flight is helpful, it won’t replace laptops for many travelers.
The ban “is simply unworkable for most business travelers. They need to be productive during their trips,” said the Business Travel Coalition in a statement, “Many business travelers do not check luggage, even on long flights as it slows them down upon arrival at baggage claim. Now they will have to check their electronics with many paying for the privilege.”
For those concerned about gear getting lost or stolen, insurance coverage from the airlines, travel insurance providers and certain credit cards may be helpful, “But the primary concern for most business travelers regarding the theft of electronic devices isn’t the value of the device itself, it’s the value/sensitivity of the data stored on the device,” said Max Leitschuh, iJET International Airline Safety Analyst.
Another option? Not checking electronic devices at all. “My recommendation is to ship your electronics to your destination,” said aviation security and safety expert Jeff Price, “There’s no way I’d put my laptop in checked baggage. And those little locks they sell can be defeated in about 15 seconds with a good paperclip.”