Almost two months after the Department of Homeland Security instituted a ban on large electronics on U.S.-bound flights from several countries in the Middle East, the agency is considering expanding the prohibition to flights from Europe.
The current ban applies to 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries: Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and applies to about 50 flights a day, NPR's Greg Myre reported.
An expansion of the restrictions to flights from Europe could have a substantially greater impact on air travel.
The current rule still allows passengers to take phones inside the cabin, but forces them to check any larger electronic items, including laptops and tablets.
Airline executives met with officials from the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the issue on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports. But the meeting ended with no announcement of a change in policy.
The DHS says it's a matter of safety, and says there is a danger of bombs being taken on board hidden inside larger electronics. Officials say the danger still exists if terrorists travel through Europe to get around the current electronic ban on direct flights from the eight nations.
"No decisions have been made on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins; however, it is under consideration," the agency said in a statement. "DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travelers safe."
"Today, the intelligence suggests they're trying to hide explosives in electronic devices," the agency's spokesman tweeted Thursday, quoting Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly from April.
The airline industry strongly opposes any move to expand the electronics ban, which could cost airlines millions of dollars in lost customers.
In one case, the Dubai-based Emirates airline cut back on flights to the U.S. last month, saying the Trump administration's security measures have weakened demand for U.S. travel. As NPR's Jason Slotkin reported, the airline cited the Trump administration's bans on travel from other Muslim-majority countries, currently held up by the courts, as additional factors in the reduction of business.
Business travelers are not happy about the prospect of being away from their electronic devices on long flights, NPR's David Schaper reports.
"It's really important for the business traveler to have access to their laptop when they're traveling to the United States," Patricia Rojas-Ungár of the U.S. Travel Association told Schaper. "Because they're doing business, but also because there's some sensitive data on their computers and they want to be able to have their computers close."
Expanding the electronic ban to Europe could affect tens of millions: about 30 million people flew from Europe to the U.S. in 2016, Schaper notes.
The European Union is requesting urgent talks with the U.S. over the matter, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.
In a letter to Kelly and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos asked for meetings "as a matter of urgency, both at political and technical level, to jointly assess the risk and review possible common measures," Reuters reports.
Nelson adds that regulators in Europe and airline executives say that placing laptops in cargo holds could increase the risk of fire.
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