Passengers on flights from the Middle East to the United States are used to being searched and aggressively questioned before boarding.
But for many, the Trump administration’s new ban on bringing electronics into the cabin went too far.
“I fly at least three times a year to the U.S.,” said Sultan Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs who lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “This will make me think twice about going there for nonessential travel.”
He is among thousands of travelers affected by the restrictions issued Tuesday. On U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Persian Gulf states, “all personal electronic devices larger than a cellphone or smartphone [must] be placed in checked baggage,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The restrictions came in response to “evaluated intelligence” indicating that “terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items,” the statement said.
Laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, video game units, travel printers and scanners — all will be inaccessible for travelers flying from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt or Morocco. The affected airports would have until Saturday to impose the ban.
The countries were selected “based on the current threat picture,” the government statement said, citing the 2015 downing of an airliner in Egypt and armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul.
Britain, which announced a similar ban hours later, added Lebanon and Tunisia to the list while removing the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Qatar and Kuwait.
Merissa Khurma, a Jordanian professional living in Washington, said in an interview on social media that the policy “plays into this widely believed misconception that anything coming from the region is a threat.”
If this was truly about national security, then “it should apply to all” flights, she said.
The injunction comes two weeks after the Trump administration tried to enact a temporary ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries, an executive order that the courts have put on hold.
Timothy Kaldas, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a think tank based in Cairo, said the electronics ban seemed imprecise in part because the airports it targets have varying degrees of security.
“The scrutiny I get from Dubai is better than what I get flying through many U.S airports,” he said.
Experts said Persian Gulf-based airlines would experience the biggest impacts. Their home airports have become hubs that in recent years eclipsed traditional nexus points in Europe, luring away many business travelers coming from India.
Dubai’s duty-free stores would lose $2 million from the loss of electronic sales, the state-owned National daily reported Wednesday.
Aqel Biltaji, vice chairman of Royal Jordanian airlines, which uses Amman’s Queen Alia Airport as a hub, said the added inconvenience would “scare away business.”
“I spoke to the U.S. ambassador about this, and I told her it will absolutely affect our bottom line,” Biltaji said. “What struck us is the short notice, and there was no explanation given.”
Biltaji noted that the new restrictions were not applied to airports where U.S. airlines have nonstop flights or to airports in Europe.
“Why the discrimination?” he said. “Why isn’t Tel Aviv listed?”
Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S., Serdar Kılıc, said in an interview with local news outlet Daily Sabah on Tuesday that the decision to include Turkey was “unacceptable” and that Istanbul’s Ataturk airport was much safer than “some European nations.”
The Americans “could have visited the airport and prepare an assessment report,” he said.
Still, Turkish Airlines used the electronics ban to boast about its “2 billion minutes of entertainment” available on board.
Royal Jordanian took a more poetic approach.
“Every week a new ban, travel to the U.S. since you can,” the company said in an online advertisement.