The U.S. government is temporarily barring passengers on certain flights originating in eight other countries from bringing laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics in carry-on luggage starting Tuesday.
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The reason for the ban was not immediately clear. U.S. security officials would not comment. The ban was revealed Monday in statements from Royal Jordanian Airlines and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia.
The affected airports are in Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.
The official was not authorized to disclose the details of the ban ahead of a public announcement and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The airports are served by nine airlines that fly directly from those cities to the United States about 50 times a day, senior government officials said.
The carriers – Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways , Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways – have until Friday to comply with the new policy, which took effect early on Tuesday and will be in place indefinitely.
Royal Jordanian said cellphones and medical devices were excluded from the ban. Everything else, the airline said, would need to be packed in checked luggage.
An Emirates spokeswoman who confirmed the Dubai-based airline was affected by the restrictions said the new security directive would last until October 14.
The policy does not affect any American carriers because none fly directly to the United States from the airports, officials said.
EgyptAir has received instructions from U.S. transport authorities imposing restrictions on electronic devices carried by incoming travelers and will bring them into effect on March 24, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
"Based on the instructions coming from transport authorities in the United States regarding placing electronic devices in the hold beneath the plane and not the cabin, EgyptAir will implement this decision on all travellers heading to the U.S. as of Friday, March 24," the spokesman said in a statement.
The devices include laptops, tablets, cameras, E-readers, portable DVD players, electronic games units, travel printers, and scanners, he said.
David Lapan, a spokesman for Homeland Security Department, declined to comment. The Transportation Security Administration, part of Homeland Security, also declined to comment.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly phoned lawmakers over the weekend to brief them on aviation security issues that have prompted the impending electronics ban, according a congressional aide briefed on the discussion. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A U.S. government official said such a ban has been considered for several weeks. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose the internal security discussions by the federal government.
Royal Jordanian said the electronics ban affects its flights to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal. The Saudi statement said flights from Riyadh and Jeddah would be impacted.
The ban would begin just before Wednesday's meeting of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington. A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering. It was unclear whether their travel plans were related to any increased worry about security threats.
Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corp., said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. He added that there could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders – airport or airline employees – in some countries.
Another aviation-security expert, Prof. Jeffrey Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver, said there were disadvantages to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage. Thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, he said, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire – an event easier to detect in the cabin than in the cargo hold.
Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag's contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.