WASHINGTON — The U.S. government began notifying nine foreign airlines in the Middle East and Africa at 3 a.m. ET Tuesday that personal electronics larger than cellphones will be banned indefinitely in the cabins of about 50 direct flights daily to the U.S.
The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, and the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration, Huban Gowadia, decided that greater security was needed based on intelligence about airlines that fly non-stop from 10 airports to the U.S., according to four senior administration officials who spoke to reporters on background to discuss security measures.
“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorists continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” said a senior administration official.
No imminent threat was reported. But the targeted airlines will have 96 hours to ensure that passengers stow all of their tablets, e-readers, DVD players, cameras, game units, travel printers and scanners — any electronics larger than a cellphone — in checked luggage rather than in carry-on.
The officials wouldn’t disclose why it was safer to have the electronics in cargo than in the cabin.
If an airline ignores the restrictions, security officials will ask the Federal Aviation Administration to revoke the airline’s certificate to fly to the U.S.
Homeland Security and State Department officials began notifying officials in the affected countries about the looming restrictions on Sunday.
The nine airlines affected are: Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Moroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
The 10 international airports where those airlines fly directly to the U.S. are: Queen Alia in Jordan, Cairo in Egypt, Ataturk in Turkey, King Abdulaziz and King Khalid in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Mohamed V in Morocco, Doha in Qatar, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.
Word of the ban began to spread Monday when Royal Jordanian and Saudi Arabian airlines each tweeted to their passengers that laptops and other electronics would no longer be allowed in the cabin on flights to the U.S.
“The effort was not focused specifically on any one location or country,” said a senior administration official. “It is really addressing the threat and how we perceive the threat, and what we’re doing is what we think is the right thing at the right place to address the threat and guarantee the safety of our traveling public.”
The ban doesn’t affect U.S. airlines because none fly directly from the airports or countries involved. The officials didn’t respond directly to a question about the possibility of a terrorist in one of the affected countries taking a connecting flight to the U.S.
“We continue to evaluate and put in place security measures both seen and unseen to address all aspects of this threat,” a senior administration official said.
The order was based on intelligence that officials wouldn’t disclose. But the Russian Metrojet destroyed over Egypt by a suspected bomb in October 2015, the explosion aboard a Daallo Airlines flight in Somalia in February 2016, and the bombings at airports in Brussels in March 2016 and Istanbul in June 2016 each contributed to the higher threat level. Security experts have said the Daallo bomb was hidden in a laptop.
“We’re concerned about ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs,” said a senior administration official. “Just evaluating all the intelligence, we believe the threat is still prominent against airlines and airports. For that reason, we have made a determination that these measures were necessary.”