U.S. Lifts Laptop Ban On Flights From Middle East

Jul 20, 2017
Originally published on July 20, 2017 4:56 pm
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Travelers flying to the U.S. from the Middle East and North Africa no longer have to worry about checking their laptops, tablets and other large electronic devices. The Department of Homeland Security has lifted its so-called laptop ban. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The Department of Homeland Security in March began prohibiting laptops and other large, portable electronic devices from being carried on commercial airline flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight majority Muslim countries. Intelligence suggested that terrorists were developing bombs powerful enough to bring down an airplane but small enough to be hidden inside those devices. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly threatened last month to expand that laptop ban to include flights to the U.S. from any international airport unless the airports and airlines upgraded their screening capabilities.

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JOHN KELLY: We didn't feel at the time that overseas airports had the kind of security initially that could give me a comfort that they could detect this device.

SCHAPER: Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last night, Secretary Kelly said the threat is real. In fact, he says, homeland security experts here built their own device with explosives hidden inside.

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KELLY: We tested it on a real airplane on the ground, pressurized. And to say the least, it destroyed the airplane.

SCHAPER: So the Department of Homeland Security now requires airports around the world that are the final points of departure for flights coming into the U.S. to enhance security screening protocols and upgrade bomb detection equipment. The requirements affect 2,000 commercial flights a day from 280 airports. And Kelly says every single airport, including the 10 in the Middle East and North Africa subjected to the initial laptop ban, now meet those initial requirements to enhance security across the board.

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KELLY: In my view globally, at least at those final point of departure airfields that come to the United States, we are raising aviation security as opposed to just going after one single threat.

SCHAPER: Airline and travel industry groups applaud the end of the laptop ban. Some business travelers canceled trips rather than going an entire 10- or 12-hour overseas flight without being able to get work done on their laptops. But Patricia Rojas-Ungar is with the U.S. Travel Association.

PATRICIA ROJAS-UNGAR: What we don't want is to create hurdles to travel that give people pause and cause them to question whether or not they want to take that trip to the United States.

SCHAPER: There is still a second phase of security enhancements airlines and airports around the world must implement within the next couple of months, or the laptop ban or other flight restrictions could return. And Secretary Kelly says terror organizations will continue to try to beat any new security measures that are put in place.

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KELLY: There are people out there - very smart people, very sophisticated people - who do nothing but trying to figure out how to blow up an airplane in flight. So it's not going to stop.

SCHAPER: For now, though, parents don't have to worry about taking long overseas flights without being able to occupy their kids with games and videos on laptops and tablets. David Schaper, NPR News.

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