Thought you’d have a productive work session on your long journey home after a business trip to Dubai or Riyadh? Think again. After the United States and the United Kingdom issued a ban on bringing laptops and tablets (as well as cameras, e-readers and any other devices larger than a smartphone) into the main cabin on flights departing from several airports in the Middle East and North Africa, it seems some business travelers will be stuck watching “Rogue Force One” on a 20-inch screen and twiddling their thumbs.
More than merely sapping their productivity, the ban very well may be in direct conflict with their company’s travel policy of keeping their laptop with them at all times due to the sensitive and proprietary data stored on it.
The challenge now for travel managers and business travelers alike is trying to figure out how the ban will impact their work and itinerary — and how long it might last.
As Jeremy Quek, the air practice line lead of the Global Business Consulting division of American Express Global Business Travel, said to the New York Times, “Right now, the conversation with clients is around getting clarity around the rules and the scope and knowing that it’s extremely fluid.”
One workaround, of course, is not to book any flights departing from the affected hubs. For the U.S. ban, this includes airports 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 UK ban, meanwhile, covers all inbound flights from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
If flying from an affected airport is necessary and you must have your laptop with you at all times due to company policy, one other way to deal with the ban is to make a stop at a hub in a country not upholding the ban, such as Germany or France, before returning home.
The problem with changing the travel pattern, as Quek commented to The Company Dime, is that travel managers will have to consider the repercussions for airline contracts. “If people change to alternate options, does the company have negotiated discounts on those routings?” he asked.
And will they get a refund on any canceled flights? Likely not.
Business travelers who are sticking to their original itinerary, your best bet is leaving your laptop at home. Many airlines note they will not be held liable if these items get broken or are lost.
But if you absolutely must bring one, here are a few tips: Do a full backup of your device before leaving for your trip and set up a passcode or fingerprint lock. Also, contact your IT department to see about getting the data on your device encrypted. Before packing your computer into your checked luggage, shut it down completely, not just in sleep mode. If your company allows it, consider bringing a “burner” laptop — an inexpensive device that has been wiped completely of sensitive information — instead.
And if you have a question about what you can stow in your carry-on, tweet the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at its AskTSA Twitter account. Staffers answer travelers’ queries from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Responses are super-friendly and polite!
But don’t expect all this tightened security to ease up anytime soon. In fact, this laptop ban comes at a time when airports across the world are introducing a slew of new biometric tools and security measures. Here are just a few of them:
What it is: In most cases, a facial-recognition kiosk scans the travelers’ faces, matches them with electronic passport photos and allows those passengers it recognizes to skip certain security lines.
Vision-Box® also unveiled its Seamless Gateway system, which is a contactless passenger identification gateway that captures facial images on the fly and matches them against an existing database.
Where it can be found: All over the world.
British Airways just announced it is rolling out the technology at its main London Heathrow Airport hub.
Brisbane Airport in Australia is testing a new system that could allow passengers to undergo a single biometric check-in without any further need to produce documents before boarding the plane.
Meanwhile, facial-recognition kiosks are popping up at airports across Canada this spring, while the Japanese government has been trialing facial-recognition technology in two Tokyo airports since 2014.
Vision-Box, which already has some form of its technology in more than 70 airports around the world, just began a three-month trial using its facial-recognition biometrics at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Iris scanning and fingerprinting
What it is: Clear, a private company that is authorized by the TSA to operate in airports, uses iris-scanning technology and fingerprinting to identify passengers enrolled in its program and move these folks to the front of security lines.
To enroll, travelers can apply online. An annual membership is $179.
Where it can be found: Clear is being used in 21 U.S. airports, including in New York, San Francisco and Denver, and there are plans to open operations in Los Angeles later this year.
Advanced explosive tests
What it is: According to a Bloomberg report, advanced technology to scan for explosives without removing fluids from hand luggage is being tested at some European locations, in cooperation with the European Union (EU).
Europe’s airport operators are in talks with regulators to introduce this technology so that passengers can carry on larger containers for liquid items than the permitted 3-ounce bottles, according to the Airports Council International trade body.
The equipment being tested can detect a wider range of substances than previously and triggers fewer false positives, said Airports Council International Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec at a briefing in London.
Where it can be found: Nowhere quite yet.
At this point, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, only is doing a study and running pilots.
Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly so we finally can stop throwing away so many standard-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner at the security checkpoint.