U.S. and European aviation and security officials are meeting in Brussels today (May 17) to discuss the planned expansion of the U.S. “laptop ban” to European routes, and industry observers are predicting massive logistical problems and airline financial losses when the expansion starts.
The U.S. is reportedly planning to ban passengers from carrying electronic devices larger than a smartphone into the cabins of U.S.-bound flights from Europe, just like the ban it already has in place for non-stop flights from 10 Middle Eastern and North African airports into the US.
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the U.S.-based Business Travel Coalition, spelled out the dangers of an expanded ban in a letter this week to Europe’s Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc.
Remember SARS? Zika? Or the Icelandic volcano that shut down transatlantic travel? If the ban is extended, “the economic risk to airlines and the travel and tourism industry is orders of magnitude greater than the threat from pandemics, volcanoes or wars,” Mitchell said. “This is serious.”
He noted that most companies, governments and universities “will not allow employees to check laptops, most of which have sensitive information on them,” and that could be a deal-breaker for many planned transatlantic trips. “That’s where a dramatic falloff in business travel demand would be based,” Mitchell said. “A monthly trip to London becomes a once-a-quarter one.”
In addition to that, all airlines specifically deny liability for electronics packed in checked bags in their contracts of carriage, so travelers are left with little or no protection unless they have travel insurance that covers such losses (many policies don’t).
The result? Fewer business travelers will pay for the big seats up front. The loss of a handful of first and business class passengers on a transatlantic flight could easily make that flight unprofitable for the airline, he said, as flagging demand drives down yields.
“There is evidence that this already is happening,” Mitchell wrote. “Despite creative efforts by Gulf carriers such as gate-side (laptop) check-in, separate secure inflight storage and dedicated arrival pick-up, not to mention onboard loaner tablets, early indications are the negative impact on bookings has been significant.” (Emirates has already announced plans to reduce flight frequencies on several U.S. routes due to a falloff in demand.)
Mitchell urged the Europeans to “push back on this potential ban” and on the one already in place for the Middle East and North Africa.
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association – a trade group of the world’s airlines – is predicting that an expanded ban would cost travelers more than $1 billion, including $655 in lost productivity, $216 million for longer travel times, and $195 million for renting laptops from airlines. IATA said extending the ban to Europe would affect 350 to 390 flights per day.
U.S. airline analyst Henry Harteveldt told Yahoo! News this week that an expansion of the ban to Europe would mean “a summer of international travel hell” for passengers. And for airlines, the ban would have an “extensive financial impact,” with falling demand and worker layoffs likely, he said.
Another analyst, Vinay Bhaskara, told Yahoo! News that if the U.S. ban is put into effect suddenly, without sufficient lead time for airlines to prepare, the result will be “havoc” for travelers and airlines. “Airports will become zoos,” he said. “The additional security screening time may require passengers to arrive at airports four or more hours in advance of flights.”
Readers: If the expanded laptop ban takes effect, would you cut back on travel to Europe? Please leave your comments below.