Here are some of the unintended consequences of an electronics ban

You may need to find non-screen ways of occupying children on some flights. Maybe it's a good thing?
You may need to find non-screen ways of occupying children on some flights. Maybe it’s a good thing?
(Biddiboo / Getty Images)

The ban on in-cabin electronics larger than a smartphone is one of the more fluid issues affecting travelers. Ten airports in the Middle East and northern Africa are a no-go for big electronics in carry-ons. (See the list) Homeland Security recently said it could broaden the ban to 71 more airports. Or it might not. It’s impossible to predict, in part because we don’t know what’s behind a concern that seemed to emerge in March. Beyond the obvious separation anxiety, the ban has some unintended consequences.

It is the unintended that may catch travelers unaware because the rules were put into place without the minute details that promote consistency of enforcement. Here are some ways your travel could change.

Your costs may increase.

Even though your laptop or tablet got a free pass to ride in the cabin on the way to your Middle East destination, it may not on the way home, said Craig Fichtelberg, president of AmTrav Corporate Travel, which manages business travel.

If you didn’t pay for your ticket with a co-branded airline credit card, on your way home you’ll have to pay to check a bag with your electronics, mail your electronics or send them by express mail.

Many people are uneasy about putting electronics in suitcases because the airlines have told us repeatedly never to pack anything of value in our checked baggage. Yet we may not have a choice unless you want to mail your electronic baby from the Middle East.

The airlines’ cost may increase, which usually means your costs will increase some more.

Henrik Zillmer, chief executive of AirHelp, which assists travelers with getting compensation for flight delays or cancellation, flew back from Dubai soon after the ban was instituted.

At the airport he saw airline personnel helping to “rehouse” laptops and other electronics that unaware passengers had in their carry-ons.

“There were about 10 [airline] people … occupied with putting laptops and electronics in boxes,” Zillmer said.

That labor is not free. And as we know, airlines are always eager to have you pay for things they don’t think they should have to do.

Prepare to spend more time waiting for luggage.

The beauty of a carry-on bag — besides generally not having to pay for it — s that you can walk off the plane and get on with your life. If you’re checking a bag, you’ll be spending more quality time at the luggage carousel.

And, Zillmer discovered in his case, the separate boxing of electronics required standing in another line to retrieve them before he could stand in line to get his bag.

Spending time in an airport, CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg once said, is like spending time in a dirty sock. Spending more time in an airport must be like more time in a really dirty sock.

Don’t count on more electronics to solve your lack of electronics problems.

I can turn my smartphone into my laptop’s mini-me. It can connect through VPN or Remote Desktop to my desktop at work (although airlines’ lo-fi Wi-Fi can turn 10-minute tasks into a 30-minute process).

I can send email. I can even write memos.

Rather than relying on thumb typing, at which I am exceptionally bad, I thought a small wireless keyboard connected to my iPhone would work.

And it could, but Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly cast a bit of doubt on that.

He was on a return trip from Istanbul recently and had packed his electronics in his checked luggage, as he was required to do.

One of his fellow passengers, though, thought a wireless keyboard could be her BFF on a long flight.

Nope, Kaplan said. It was taken away. He was unsure whether the airline was acting out of an abundance of caution or there was some document that mandated this.

We don’t know because the Homeland Security memo is so broad that it is sort of like a job description that ends with “other duties as assigned.” It could mean anything. Whatever the issue, it leads to this:

Because we don’t know what we don’t know, we’re going to need to ask many more questions.

Few people want to spend more time on the phone with their airline, but that may be the lot of Michele Burgess, a Southern California photographer and tour group leader who asked me about packing cameras in checked bags.

Yes, cameras that are larger than a smartphone must be placed in checked bags. What about camera lenses? Burgess asked.

“The announcement doesn’t specify about the lens specifically, so the safest thing to do would be to check directly with the airline,” said Kelsey Blodget, senior executive editor of, which describes itself as an unbiased source of hotel information.

Even then, depending on what guidance the airline has had, you may get different answers. After all, isn’t the standard wisdom in dealing with airline agents on the telephone to hang up and call back until you get an answer you like?

—Invest in thumb drives. Some airlines, Kaplan said, are offering loaner laptops. But without your data, you’re dead in the water.

The answer: Flash drives (encrypted, of course). Again, another cost but worth it. Just don’t leave behind traces of your work..

Turn back the clock.

Remember a time before electronics were our most important relationship? An in-cabin ban may mean we’re in lo-tech land.

Gabe Rizzi, president of Travel Leaders Corporate, said in an email: “It seems old fashioned, but pen and paper still exist. There’s a lot to be said for writing — yes, using a pen! — when working on a plane. You’re limited, but you can make a to-do list for when you land, outline what you want your presentation to look like, and make note of your team’s work.

“I like to think of a notebook as serving as my mini mobile whiteboard.”

These pre-iPhone techniques may not seem glam, but they have an upside, said April Masini, a relationship expert who writes the Ask April column.

“If electronics are banned from airline cabins, there’s going to be a resurgence in books — not Kindles or electronic books, but real books with paper pages,” she said in an email. “Expect to see more stock carried in airline bookstores and more people using that time in the airline cabin to read.”

And that’s just the beginning.

“There may be a very positive outcome to forcing business travelers and families to unplug on plane rides,” she said. Instead of flying face to screen, they may relax. They may nap, think, meditate, come upon aha! moments and even converse with fellow travelers.

“In other words, there’s a social upside to unplugging while flying. People will connect more — with each other.”

Maybe there are some silver linings in these clouds. But it is also the responsibility of On the Spot to find the clouds in the silver linings.

So next week, we’ll talk about one of my favorite topics. I’d tell you it’s about insurance, but your eyes would glaze over and you’d stick your fingers in your ears. For now, let’s just say the next Spot will be about how to get money back when your stuff is stolen from or damaged in your checked luggage.

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