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What exactly is the laptop ban on aeroplanes going to achieve?

The laptop ban announced by governments in the US and UK today is going to make long journeys seem even longer for many. Taking refuge in a movie, in some work or in whatever else you happen to have loaded onto a laptop, tablet or e-reader has offered distractions for many on long-haul trips. Those people will now have to rely on their phones, or even read a book to amuse themselves. They can’t even fiddle with their camera, also banned.

Set against this is the possibility that there has been specific intelligence suggesting someone in a terrorist group, possibly more than one person, has planned to blow a plane up. Obviously they must be foiled.

Laptop ban uneven

The difficulties are many. First, although it’s possible to reinforce the hold, whether the structures are going to be sufficiently strong to withstand a blast from a powerful explosive is yet to be seen. Whether banishing laptops from the cabin is actually going to have the desired effect is therefore open to question.

Second, the airlines the US is banning from carrying laptops in the cabin are nine in number; in the UK we’re proscribing only six. There is obviously a disparity – maybe intended to confuse and disorientate the terrorist factions, who now have a handy guide as to which airlines and airports it’s most efficient to use.

To be truly effective a ban such as this surely needs to be completely consistent and preferably to apply to all airlines and airports. Given the number of terrorists known to be, for example, British, the notion that they can’t slip onto a flight outside the ban area doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Nor does the idea that the expertise of the existing handling staff will automatically extend itself to tracking every larger electrical device in the hold.

Businesses affected

This laptop ban will affect three broad groups of people other than consumers wanting to amuse themselves. First, the business travellers using their equipment to carry out work during flights; we’re suddenly a little less mobile now. Second, the same is true of government operatives, who would presumably be covered by the same ban (although the thought of president Trump being prevented from Tweeting for a few hours has a certain appeal).

Third, you have to feel some sympathy for the shops selling cheaper laptops, tablets and cameras in the duty free areas of the airports. Either there will need to be provision for dropping them off into the hold (something that doesn’t normally happen beyond security, and it would need to feel frictionless rather than a hassle) and pick them up on the other side, or there will be a sharp drop in sales.