Home News Laptop and camera air ban stops people travelling, harms economy

Laptop and camera air ban stops people travelling, harms economy

 Check-in baggage, Sir? Who makes the decision on what equipment to allow, what to consign to the hold?
Check-in baggage, Sir? Who makes the decision on what equipment to allow, what to consign to the hold?

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. 



  1. If you can keep your eye on this issue, Mike, and update us with developments, that would be a real service. I’d certainly go with you on London to Cologne, but London to Copenhagen (which is nearish where I live) in one unbroken set of connections is a less comfortable prospect – and more expensive than air. I’m actually fed up that there are now no ferries from Scandinavia or Northern Germany to England because shipping companies like the long-honoured DFDS couldn’t afford to upgrade their ships to new fuel regulations. So now we fly and pollute even more than the old ships!

  2. The source of most of this is the intelligence services, particularly those in the US and the UK. Your timing is good on this as today both Turkish Airlines and Emirates have announced the lifting of the laptop ban. Some others which I use regularly, such as Qatar Airways, are still subject to the ban which because it relates to electronics also affects modern digital cameras. The question of size such as DSLR v rangefinder or compact appears to be irrelevant. What none of us can have failed to notice is the modern tendency to bring the ‘kitchen sink’ on board in an attempt to avoid having to check in luggage. It is not clear whether this is as a result of modern airline seat pricing (checked in luggage extra) or just the modern disease of rushing everywhere or the possibility of thieving by luggage handling staff .

    I am attending a function tonight for the launch of Qatar Airways new service into Dublin. I will ask about the possible effects of a continuing ban. During all of my time living in the Middle East or travelling there since I never once felt nervous about some chap sitting beside me with a laptop. The standard of airlines in the Middle East is superb and is well ahead of their US and Western European counterparts.

    As for taking trains to Cologne, I think I will be waiting a long time for the Dublin to Cologne rail connection to open.


    • Just a quick update. The laptop ban no longer applies to Qatar Airways as from today. The ban is slowly eroding, it seems.


  3. I am absolutely with you Mike. This is a totally braindead decision, because an evil doer technically won’t have any problems to detonate a bomb in the cargo space in the plane’s belly using a small "remote control" or time fuse. Something else to consider is the high risk of theft. The special containers holding all the laptops, tablets, and expensive camera gear will be a prime target, thats for sure.

    I always loved to travel to the other side of the planet (US, Canada) for more than 25 years, but noone ever will dictate what kind of camera gear I can take with me on my photo / vacation trip as long as there is no compelling reason. I have expensive camera gear and I will use it on a trip like that. Period!

    In case of having to check-in my camera gear and MacBook Pro laptop, I’ll cancel the trip altogether. The high risk of getting it damaged or stolen financially isn’t worth it. Indeed this will cause substantial losses for the airlines, as well as the tourism industry (hotels, rental car companies, food-service trade, cruise ship companies, photo workshop organizers … the list goes on and on. Then its time again to stay in beautiful Europe and travel by car again and support our own economy and … let the aforementioned people abroad know, why they won’t see a single dollar from me again.

    If this ban will become a reality, it’ll be among the most stupid things ever, but apparently stupidity is becoming more and more en-vogue these days. 😉


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