Since the ban on laptops and cameras on flights to the USA from selected airports we’ve had many conflicting stories about future policy. Some suggest this is going to become a world-wide Verbot. Others that it is wholly unnecessary if proper security procedures are applied. Even the safety of grouping all those devices and batteries together in an inaccessible aircraft hold has been strongly questioned. It’s not just the threat of an iPad or laptop, its the more obvious problem of battery fires and that threat is exacerbated rather than minimised by these new regulations.
While the emphasis throughout has been on laptops and tablets, my primary concern has always been the inclusion of camera equipment. For most of us photographers it’s a serious consideration. I certainly wouldn’t want to consign expensive cameras and lenses to an aircraft hold, however careful the staff promise to be. Indeed, if faced by a ban on taking my cameras with me into the cabin I would travel with the smallest possible camera. It remains to be seen, though, what level of equipment will be singled out. A big DSLR kit, for instance, is an obvious candidate. But what about a compact Leica M or a small camera such as the Ricoh GR? Would they be considered a threat. Or what about film cameras? They can be opened (with advance planning of course) to show there is nothing hidden inside, so ought they to be included? The problem is that we have no way of telling and the rules will probably be enforced at the whim of individual airports or, even security personnel themselves. They can even make a virtue of this — not issuing specific guidelines so as not to announce potential loopholes for evil doers.
To a large extent, therefore, we are left in limbo. One thing is clear, though, bans on equipment can have unexpected consequences — such as every photographer’s decision on what gear to take on vacation or on a business trip. There is already clear evidence that the laptop ban alone is harming bookings, particularly those of Gulf-based airlines. Emirates has reduced flights to America by 20 percent because of lower demand and cite the laptop problem as the main reason. Business travellers routinely make use of the enforced idleness of a long flight to get on with some useful work. Not being able to work and, perhaps not wishing to take a laptop for work at the destination, is obviously an important factor. Perhaps, too, businesses will explore other ways of meeting. I’ve felt for a long time that a lot of time and money is wasted on travelling when video conferencing is now so well established and virtually free. Restrictions on travel will only encourage more companies to cut down.
But back to our particular problem, what do with with our cameras and lenses. I have not found any Leica M owner, for instance, who would willingly check in a camera and lenses. Some friends have said they would change their travel plans if such a ban became widespread. Others, including me, would travel with smaller, lighter (and cheaper) gear. I would also not check in an expensive laptop and it is one reason I decided to hang on to my early 2015 MacBook instead of upgrading to the newest Kaby Lake model.
Fundamentally, though, I do have reservations about this whole business. I cannot see that packing hundreds of tablets, laptops and cameras in the hold of an aircraft minimises risk. Logic says it could even increase risk, particularly in such instances as battery fire. The only solution, I feel, is more thorough checks cabin baggage items. It will mean extra security delays, of course, but we have long become used to the inconveniences of air travel. Already Abu Dhabi has increased security screening and as a direct result has been removed from the list of airports where equipment has to be consigned to the hold.
This whole recent business does rather smack of the usual sort of knee-jerk reaction we have also sadly become accustomed to over the past couple of decades. I suppose it is something we will have to accommodate in our plans.
With no end to all these security nightmares in sight, however, the attractions of long-distance train travel are growing on me.