IT travel ban could have massive impact on IFEC industry

A passenger using a laptop in flight. The IT travel ban could make this a thing of the past on some flights. Image: Emirates.
A passenger using a laptop in flight. The IT travel ban could make this a thing of the past on some flights. Image: Emirates.

News yesterday that the USA and UK have implemented an IT travel ban on some passengers carrying laptops and tablets into an aircraft cabin could have far-reaching effects on the in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) industry.

The USA announced yesterday that the devices would have to be in checked baggage on incoming flights to the USA from Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan; Cairo International Airport, Egypt; Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey; King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International Airport; Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International, Doha, Qatar; Dubai International, United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates.

For UK-bound travellers, it affects all flights coming from: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

And is not just laptop and tablets. The US ruling also includes E-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic game units larger than a smartphone, travel printers and scanners.

The US ruling says: “Electronic devices larger than a cell phone/smart phone will not be allowed to be carried onboard the aircraft in carry-on luggage or other accessible property.”

The UK has offered clearer rules – nothing bigger than 16cm (6.3ins) long, 9.3cm (3.6ins) wide or 1.5cm (0.6ins) deep will be allowed into the cabin – which means mobiles like the larger iPhone Plus will still be allowed.

The impact on the inflight entertainment and connectivity market (IFEC) could be huge.

Many airlines are moving to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model that encourages passengers to bring their own devices. While watching movie and other content on embedded IFE may still be the norm for many passengers, surfing the net via their own device, accessing emails or working on other files, such as spreadsheets, presentations or word processed documents, is now going to be denied to them.

The worry is that this becomes a long-term IT travel ban (such as the one imposed on liquids) and whether other countries follow suit.

And if the ban does escalate to flights to and from other regions it could kill the nascent BYOD and IFEC market dead.

In a statement, the US Department of Homeland Security said it was basing its decisions on “evaluated intelligence”.

It said terrorists “continue to target commercial aviation” and are trying to find “innovative methods” to make such attacks – including hiding explosives in consumer electronics.

“We note that disseminated propaganda from various terrorist groups is encouraging attacks on aviation, to include tactics to circumvent aviation security.

“We have reason to be concerned,” the agency said – but did not address any specific threat.

IT travel ban

Quite how much safer an exploding laptop is in an aircraft hold than in a cabin is debatable and it will be interesting to see how this IT travel ban develops over the coming months.

In the meantime, passengers can still use their smartphones to access the internet on an aircraft via an IFEC system (if fitted). And we may expect to see a rise in the number of IT warriors trying to get their work done on iPhones – tiny screens and all.

However, the need for dedicated USB power at the seat will not go away. And neither will the need for cabin Wi-Fi.

But the IT travel ban is a ruling that BYOD IFEC manufacturers could well do without.

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