Effective March 21, 2017, the governments of the United States and United Kingdom have banned electronic items larger than a cellphone on certain airlines that fly from specific Middle Eastern cities.

The U.K. initiative followed the American lead, but included fewer airlines, and Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said the Canadian government is considering the ban, too.

Although specific details remain slim, the ban apparently applies to laptops, tablets, readers, portable DVD players and even cameras.

For now, the U.S. ban does not apply to passengers travelling on U.S. or Canadian airlines, but only to those on about 12 overseas airlines that are believed to be based in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

Which Cities are Affected?

Early reports suggest that the ban applies only to nonstop flights to the U.S. from Cairo, Egypt; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Istanbul, Turkey; and Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

Royal Jordanian Airlines immediately complied, and anyone travelling with them to the U.S.—including passengers transiting via Canada—must now place all electronic items in their checked baggage. Other airlines including Saudia, Egyptair, Emirates and Etihad are awaiting official notification of the ban before implementing it.

A History of New Measures

This is not the first time that security concerns have led to bans or restrictions on certain items carried into the passenger cabin.

Following the 2001 arrest of so-called “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, after he attempted to detonate an explosive device concealed in his shoes on board an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami, passengers were required to remove their shoes as they passed through airport security. That precaution has only recently been eased.

In 2006, a British police operation unearthed a plot to bomb airliners travelling from the United Kingdom to Canada and the U.S. using liquid explosives. Initially, passengers were permitted to only carry necessary travel documents into the cabin, with all other possessions—including cellphones, books and even periodicals—placed in checked baggage.

Those restrictions were quickly loosened, but travellers are still not allowed to transport liquids in carry-ons, except for those acquired in Duty Free stores or housed in small transparent containers.

In addition, for some years, several airlines have refused to accept any electronic items in checked baggage out of fear of battery fires and other technical problems that can be better handled in the cabin than the hold, and out of concern for loss, theft or damage.

Ironically, this new ban comes at a time when airlines have been encouraging passengers to bring their own electronic devices onboard to access WiFi in-flight entertainment systems.

There is no word on how long this ban will be in place, or whether it will be expanded beyond the original airlines and airports. However, for the time being, travellers are advised to check with their airline before flying to minimize inconvenience and the necessity to repack items at the airport, or to potentially be forced to abandon them.

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