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Airline CEO Anger Simmers Over Laptop Ban

CEOs traveling to and from the Middle East won't be able to get much work done, but they're not the only ones foreshadowing weaker productivity.

So far, airline industry executives have been careful to only lightly criticize a laptop ban on flights entering the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries.

An underlying well of concern, however, appears to have bubbled to the surface after the head of the industry’s biggest lobby group, the International Airline Transport Association, slammed the ban during a speech in Canada yesterday.

Although the precise reasoning for the restrictions, partly replicated in the UK, is unclear, they are adding to concerns among business leaders in industries from aviation to technology that harder borders, either in a trade or national security context, could damage global economic prosperity.

“The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate,” IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac told the Montreal Council of Foreign Relations. “Even in the short-term, it is difficult to understand their effectiveness. And the commercial distortions they create are severe.”


IATA represents 265 airlines around the globe. Juniac called on lawmakers to work together with its members on ways to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their possessions. “Surely there must be a way to screen electronic equipment effectively at airport checkpoints?” he asked.

The U.S. and UK rules, passed suddenly last Tuesday with little-to-no warning, prevent people traveling from a range of Middle Eastern and North African countries from carrying electronic devices bigger than a smartphone in the cabin. Effectively, it means they either have to stash their devices in their hold luggage or leave them at home. Curiously, the U.S. included airports in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in its ban, while the UK did not, leaving the massive hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi exposed for American-bound flights.

No American airlines currently fly directly to the Middle East, but Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are the home of three of their biggest competitors: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

The ban comes as America’s three biggest carriers, American Airlines, Delta and United Continental, lobby the Trump administration to restrict Middle Eastern carriers’ access to U.S. skies, arguing they are government-subsidized and therefore don’t compete fairly. There has been no suggestion their lobbying efforts are in any way related to the latest security measures.

Emirates CEO Tim Clark said security procedures at Dubai were some of the most stringent in the world. “I do find that a little bit surprising to be quite honest,” he told AP of the ban last week. “When I travel around even the United States or Europe or Asia, I don’t see this level of scrutiny that goes on in Dubai.”

Clark said he wasn’t privy to the reasoning behind the ban. “I can only assume the United States government has reasons to do what they’re doing,” he said.

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