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The UK government has followed the lead of its US counterpart and moved to ban larger electronic devices such as laptops and tablets from being carried as cabin baggage on flights into the UK from six majority Muslim countries in the Middle East.
The UK ban specifically targets Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey. Unlike the US ban, which was announced on 20 March, it does not appear to affect flights from Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates.
These routes are currently served by eight British airlines, including British Airways, Easyjet, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson, as well as six Middle Eastern carriers, including Egyptair, Royal Jordanian and Turkish Airlines.
Passengers boarding flights from these countries will be prohibited from carrying laptops, smartphones or tablets larger than 16 x 9.3 x 1.5cm, which means most popular brands of smartphones such as the iPhone 7, will be exempt.
In a statement to the House of Commons, transport secretary Chris Grayling said he had been in close contact with US counterparts to fully understand the American position, which has drawn substantial criticism in light of President Trump’s attempted ban on travel to the US from a number of Middle Eastern countries.
“In conjunction with our international partners and the aviation industry, the UK government keeps aviation security under constant review,” he said. “The UK has some of the most robust aviation security measures in the world, and at all times the safety and security of the public is our primary concern. We will not hesitate to put in place measures we believe are necessary, effective and proportionate.”
“I know the House will recognise that we face a constantly evolving threat from terrorism and must respond accordingly to ensure the protection of the public against those who would do us harm,” said Grayling. “The update we are making to our security measures is an important part of that process.”
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The government said it understood the frustration such measures may cause and would work closely with affected airlines to minimise the impact. It stressed that it was not advising against flying to or from any of the affected countries, and made no reference to any current terror threat.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said its ban came in light of recent attacks on airliners and airports, and cited the 2015 downing of Metrojet flight 9268 over Egypt, which claimed the lives of 224 passengers and crew, as well as the 2016 attack on Brussels airport, which killed 17.
“Our information indicates that terrorist groups’ efforts to execute an attack against the aviation sector are intensifying given that aviation attacks provide an opportunity to cause mass casualties and inflict significant economic damage, as well as generate overwhelming media coverage,” said the DHS in a statement.
The effectiveness of the US ban was criticised by aviation news website Runway Girl Network, given existing concerns over the transport of lithium ion batteries as cargo on planes, and a recent spate of on-board fires caused by faulty Samsung devices.
It has also been pointed out that any terrorist bent on bombing US-bound airliners could travel through an unaffected country with relative ease.