Several Middle Eastern airports have started implementing a ban on carry-on laptops on flights to the US and the UK. The ban has received a mixed response from passengers and the countries affected by the restrictions.
The US ban has affected nine airlines from eight countries - Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Passengers on direct flights to the US from these countries are not allowed to carry on board electronic devices larger than a cellphone.
Similar UK restrictions apply to six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
American and British officials say devices "larger than a smartphone" could contain explosives. They have not specified how long the ban will last, but the UAE-based Emirates airlines told the AFP news agency it had received instructions to enforce it until at least October 14.
As the ban came into effect on Saturday, passengers on dozens of flights from Dubai to Doha checked in their electronic devices. Many passengers said the new measure is merely another inconvenience of global travel.
"It's a rule. I follow the rules," Rakan Mohammed, a Qatari national at the Dubai airport, told AFP.
"The bigger problem for my family is the no smoking. On a long flight, they become restless after three hours," Mohammad said.
The ban also covers electronic items sold at the duty free shops of the affected airports.
Emirates airline is offering complimentary services at the airport gates to enable passengers to use their laptops after check-in and until boarding.
UAE officials expressed surprise over the ban but said they would cooperate with the US. They said the security at their airports, particularly on US-bound flights, was already tight.
But some other countries affected by the restrictions have called the ban "unjustified."
Tunisian authorities on Friday summoned the British ambassador, Louise de Sousa, to protest the inclusion of their country on the ban list. Mohamed Mezghani, the Foreign Ministry's head of European affairs, told de Sousa that the ban "does not reflect the security situation in Tunisia."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the US and UK authorities to lift the ban. He said the restrictions imposed on Turkey damaged mutual confidence.
Royal Jordanian, which operates direct flights to London, New York, Detroit and Chicago, poked fun at the ban with a number of social media posts
US officials said the restrictions were prompted by "evaluated intelligence" about potential threats to airplanes bound for the United States.
"The restrictions are in place due to evaluated intelligence and we think it's the right thing to do and the right places to do it to secure the safety of the traveling public," one US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The officials also did not discuss the timing of the intelligence or if a particular group is thought to be planning an attack. They did, however, say that their concerns had been "heightened by several successful events and attacks on passenger lanes and airports over the last years."
An official cited one incident from February of last year in which suspected Somali Islamists blew a hole in the side of a Daallo Airlines passenger jet with a small device. Only the bomber was killed and the plane managed to land safely.
The British "Guardian" newspaper said that European security experts are due to meet next week to discuss the laptop ban.
shs/blc (AFP, Reuters)