Disclaimer: The following editorial is my personal opinion and does not represent the official position of the U.S. Government or military.
There has been a lot of blogger hate about the upcoming ban on anything larger than a phone for ten Middle East/ North African cities. Frankly, people that use their laptops all the time are justly the most upset, however, this doesn’t represent the typical traveler. At least my observations are that people use their devices 90% for entertainment, not work (including me). They can go back to using the seatback IFE and it won’t be the end of the world. There is such a thing as sacrificing for the greater good.
The bottom line is that people with a lot more information than us have determined that this was a real threat and we need to do all we can to prevent a terrorist incident. I have seen several bloggers state that the threat is “non-specific” and therefore we should not take these steps. If the threat was specific, we would have the host country arrest the individual or introduce him or her to an up close and personal demonstration of American technology. Terrorism is typically a non-specific threat which is the entire reason we have security checkpoint, body scanner, and x-ray machines, including for luggage.
We have seen successful airplane bombings recently with the downing of the Russian airliner over the Sinai and the attempted downing of the Somali airliner that could have succeeded if the bomber knew enough to get a seat next to a structural member instead of the aluminum skin. In both instances, it was found that the bomber had help from the local ground staff or security. So we hear that Al Qaeda is working on a manually-detonated electronics-based bomb. Why would we poo-poo this report and not act? You really want to wait until hundreds of people die in a bombing and then act? This is like the neighborhood that complains about a dangerous crosswalk, but the city only takes action and installs a light after someone is killed.
Courtesy of the U.S. Army, I am an explosives expert. Some bloggers have written that they don’t understand why an iPhone is OK since it is essentially a mini-computer. Or how they could put three phones together and they would be as powerful as a laptop. They must be thinking that somehow the computer inside is going to take over the plane in some sci-fi movie-like incident. The terrorists are looking for volume to hide powerful explosives like C-4 or Semtex. That is why the focus is on battery compartments. In the past the security folks could simply ask you to power up a laptop to demonstrate the battery was in place. This is conjecture, but what if Al Qaeda was found to be working on a way where part of the battery was left in place to power up the laptop for five minutes, but the rest of that space was an explosive? A pound or two is plenty of power to cut a structural member if placed correctly. And back to the question on three iPhones together? You can’t put a rubber band around three firecrackers and think it is the same as an M-80. Just not how explosives and expanding gases work.
Others have said they don’t understand why a laptop in the hold is OK, but not in the cabin. Well besides saying that the threat was a manually-detonated device, the terrorist would have no idea where their laptop would end up in the hold. Explosive force diminishes by the square of the distance it is away from the area to be impacted. Thus if a bomb is 1 foot away from the aircraft surface and exerts a certain explosive force, a bomb 2 feet away would have 1/4 of that force. You cannot randomly hope for the location of a small explosive. Remember we are only talking about a pound of explosive, not the whole suitcase-full that brought down Pan AM 103.
The wife and I are planning a future trip that will take us through one of these cities and I was debating if we should still take it, but really I can do without my laptop for one trip. I would much rather feel secure that we are trying to defeat a terrorist attempt. The terrorist threat will be the likely cause of reduced air traffic on these carriers, not the fact that they can’t use their laptop. Frankly, I would be much more concerned with my electronics being stolen or damaged in luggage than worry that I will only have IFE.
Just one man’s opinion, but I felt I needed to make a counter-argument that I did not see anyone else making except in main stream media.