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If In-Flight Laptop Ban is Extended to More Destinations, Event Owners May Need to Make Special Plans

31 May, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

As airlines struggle to balance the need for security and its passengers’ need to stay connected, the laptop is looking more and more like a casualty in the fight, something that could create major headaches for sports event owners.

According to a news article by Reuters, U.S. Homeland Security officials have been discussing the possibility of expanding its ban on large electronic devices in travel, which went into effect in March. Laptop computers, which come under this heading, were banned on flights originating from 10 airports including in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey because of fears that a concealed bomb could be installed in electronic devices taken onto aircraft.

Now, officials are looking at the possibility of enlarging the scope of that ban to include some European destinations.

Why could this create a problem for sports events? Consider this: more events are being held internationally, with both U.S. athletes on outbound flights, and international athletes coming in. In addition to using laptops on board to stay connected, event owners have a critical need for them when it comes to recording and streaming events, compiling statistics and more. Judges and officials use larger electronics in order to do their work as well. A ban on such equipment could create huge headaches for event owners, who suddenly find themselves unable to do their jobs efficiently.

In addition, as more teams and athletes travel for events, it will become incumbent upon event owners to stay up to date with the regulations, and to ascertain that all available information is circulated with plenty of time to allow device users to make the plans they need.

Should the ban be widened to include more airports, airlines, TSA and others will need to discuss a timeline, including the issue of how much advance notice would be given to travelers. In addition, tighter controls may mean the need to hire more staff. (In 2016, 30 million people flew to the United States from Europe, according to U.S. Transportation Department data.)

Although presently, some airlines are allowing device owners to pack their large electronics in checked baggage, that’s not a satisfactory answer either. In addition to the fact that it does not enhance security and in fact, might present even more of a risk, given airlines’ recent precautions about lithium batteries, checked bags are subject to search – and unfortunately, subject to the occasional dishonest handler.

In an article in Meetings & Conventions, U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President for Public Affairs Jonathan Grella was quoted as saying, "If there is a legitimate terror threat, the flying public needs to take it seriously and adjust to the new protocols as best they can. Travelers have been through this kind of thing before and are more resilient than we often think, plus the consequences of a major attack on the transportation system hardly need to be repeated. Threats are ever-evolving, and so must we all be. Still, it is critical for the U.S. government to clearly communicate the details of this new policy and the reasons why it's needed, continually reassess it to ensure it remains relevant and effective, and actively seek protocols that neutralize threats while minimizing disruption for legitimate business and leisure travelers.”

Not everyone is willing to have the ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, though. The Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has already warned that extending the current laptop ban to U.S.-bound flights from European airports would result in "significant disruptions," noted another article in Travel Weekly.

"[The ban] would hit the Continent's busiest airports hardest, where a significant portion of U.S.-bound flights would need to be canceled at short notice," said Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe. "For the flights that could still operate there would be delays, which would compromise onward connections in the U.S."

Pundits have noted that in response to a ban, airlines could begin building laptops into seatbacks and charging passengers for the convenience. The cloud computing industry also stands to benefit significantly, as could a market for rental laptops at hotels, venues and others.

With Qatar being one of the ‘hot spot’ destinations, and with that area gearing up for the FIFA World Cup, it is certain that journalists, officials and others will need to travel with electronic devices. It will be interesting to follow further developments on this subject.

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