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As Laptop Ban Talks Drag On, Airlines See Cargo Bin and Operational Issues — Not Big Demand Dropoff









Ted Reed, a Forbes contributor, who has been covering the airline industry since 1989 discusses the impact of the proposed ban of Laptops on U.S bound flights. He quotes varied experts’ opinions suggesting that the ban will be digging new holes to fill old ones. Here are some highlights:

  • Laptop lithium-ion batteries are clearly hazardous and airlines don’t want a hazardous device in their cargo hold
  • Global airlines could suffer an impact of $1 billion from delays that would increase travel time and eliminate productive time aboard aircraft
  • Could discourage passengers from flying
  • Passengers would have to check more baggage
  • The level of monitoring baggage would likely increase

Should (U.S) ban airline passengers on U.S.-bound flights from carrying on laptops and other large electronics?

Or, already three weeks into what is expected to be the busiest summer travel season in U.S. history, should (the world) just keep talking about it?

The latter course has so far been the preferred one, not surprisingly, since banning laptops seems to be an exercise that eliminates one potential problem while creating others.

“Placing {laptops} in cargo doesn’t solve the problem,” Todd Insler, chairman of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association told TheStreet las month.  “It just creates a different problem.

“Lithium-ion batteries are clearly hazardous — I don’t want a hazardous device in my cargo hold,” said Insler, a New York-based Boeing 767 captain.

Additionally, the International Air Transport Association has estimated global airlines could suffer an impact of $1 billion from delays that would increase travel time and eliminate productive time aboard aircraft.

At the same time, last week top executives from United Airlines and American Airlines questioned whether the laptop ban in itself would discourage passengers from flying.

“My guess is not better than anyone’s in this room about what the impact on demand will be,” said United President Kirby, who spoke at an investor conference.

“It’s hard to me to see that {checking} a laptop or personal entertainment device would lead to much change in demand,” Kirby said. “I’d be shocked if it’s 15% of people who are affected by that.”

However, he said, a laptop ban could dramatically impact operations because passengers would have to check more baggage and also the level of monitoring that baggage would likely increase.

The executives stressed that United and American are perfectly willing to carry out whatever security policies the government devises.

“Security is our number one priority,” Kirby said.  “We don’t have the right clearance level to know everything about what the risk is. {Other} people have much better intelligence.”

In an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News, American CEO Doug Parker also deferred to the government regarding safety.

“We are dependent upon the U.S. government, who has the intelligence to let us know what their view is about the risk is,” he said.

Asked the financial impact of a laptop ban, Parker responded: “It’s hard to tell: we never had one.”

However, Parker continued, American has questioned its larger corporate clients, who say “It wouldn’t stop them from traveling just because they couldn’t bring a laptop.”

In fact, he said, “many companies today don’t allow their employees to take laptops to China at all.

They’re worried about privacy. So, we have a case study where there are customers flying to China without a laptop at all.” Yet people still travel to China.

A limited case study occurred in March, when the U.S. decided to ban arriving passengers from carrying on laptops and other large electronics at 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa.

No U.S. carriers serve the affected airports, and passengers had the option to fly to the U.S. from other airports.

The only major player to acknowledge a significant impact on traffic has been Emirates: In April, the carrier cut its weekly Dubai-U.S. flights by 20% to 101, citing reduced demand due to “recent actions taken by the US government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that airlines are scrambling to prepare for the additional security checks and angry passengers that would likely result from a ban of carry-on laptops on international flights, if there is to be a ban.

At a meeting in Malta on Friday, U.S. officials including Attorney General Jeff Sessions presented European counterpart with a list of extra security measures that, if imposed, could forestall a ban, the newspaper reported.

If a ban were to occur, “the most likely measure would be secondary airport checkpoints to temporarily confiscate most electronic devices from passengers,” the Wall Street Journal said. “Those could lead to longer lines, delayed flights and higher costs, and could be the industry’s biggest logistical challenge since 2006, when a suspected bomb plot against trans-Atlantic flights led to limits on liquids and gels on board, say aviation experts.”


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