Laptop Ban: Packing for a future of more restrictions
The ban on carrying laptops and cameras on board aircraft is currently restricted to two administrations, the US and UK, and applies only to flights from certain other countries. It is also said to be temporary, but over the past twenty years we’ve heard all that before. Not only will it cause us to examine our travel packing list, it could focus attention on alternative means of travel.
How soon will it be before there is a general cabin ban on electronic equipment larger than an iPhone? One UK Minister has already refused to rule out a world-wide ban. It’s a dismal thought because most of us now travel with a laptop or tablet; and most of the time we also carry some pretty expensive camera gear. We could most of us manage without using such items during a flight, but how would we react to having to place our expensive and fragile electronic gear in the hold?
Already some airlines are responding to the question by offering separate secure storage for equipment. They are allowing passengers to take their stuff through checkin; the equipment is then placed in secure boxes at the point of boarding and the airlines are guaranteeing safe passage.
Without doubt, though, we would have to revise our plans if such bans became universal. Would I still carry expensive Leica gear? No. Would I still take a laptop? Only if necessary and I would make sure it was a cheapish version.
Recently I had been considering my computing needs and wondering whether a high-end laptop could serve as a desktop computer and as a travel companion. No longer. Even the whiff of a ban means I will keep my two-year-old MacBook as a travel computer. I probably won’t upgrade it and will regard it as expendable, something that I wouldn't mind consigning to hold luggage. This provides one example of the way in which any new restrictions could cause people to change their buying decisions.
My iPhone 7 Plus, which is not suspect under the new regulations (yet) is enough computing power to do most of my work when travelling. It is certainly good enough for writing blog posts, although page layouts with pictures are beyond its capabilities. But it is better than nothing. Wherever possible, then, I would travel without iPad or MacBook if such a ban were to come into play.
Cameras are another consideration. Since talk is currently of “electronic equipment” we might presume that film cameras will be exempt from control. I wouldn’t like to bet on it, though. How will the average security person know for sure what is a film camera? About the only way for the layman to make sure would be to open the back….. So what’s the alternative if we can take only cameras that we are happy to consign to the hold?
Expensive, multi-lens systems will probably be out of the question, except for professional photographers who have no choice in the matter. This alone, if the ban is extended, will inevitably harm the sales of more expensive cameras. Photographers will wonder why bother to own expensive equipment if they are unhappy travelling with it.
I would certainly be inclined to travel with an inexpensive, compact camera with fixed lens instead of with an expensive outfit. The Ricoh GR, the Fuji X100F, the Sony RX100 or the Panasonic LX100 (aka Leica D-Lux) would become more attractive as travel companions. I could envisage packing one or other of these small cameras in my suitcase; but not an M10 with couple of lenses.
Alternatives to air
Another side-effect of further airline packing restrictions will be a move to alternative forms of transport. Within Europe, for instance, trains offer a more comfortable means of long-distance travel, if not quite so rapid as flying. If time isn't of the essence, taking the train from London to Berlin is more congenial than flying. Unfortunately it isn't always cheaper, but that could change if there is more demand.
Last September I travelled to Photkina in Cologne by train and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. When you take into account the time you spend travelling to and from airports and the need to check in earlier, the difference in time is not dramatic. For shorter journeys from London, such as to Paris on Brussels, the train is by far the sensible choice even on time. Car travel, too, is likely to become more attractive.
Air travel is already a pain and these restrictions, if extended, will do nothing to enhance the experience. Unfortunately, for longer journeys there is no alternative, so we will still be left with decisions on what to pack and what to leave at home.
Wait and see
For the moment we will have to wait and see. It is very early days. These restrictions could be temporary and, I hope, will prove unnecessary. The ban is predicated on the supposed need for laptop bombs to be manually activated. But this seems to be stretching things. Anything that can be manually activated can presumably be remotely activated by modern electronics. So the idea of a hold full of laptops and cameras inspires no more confidence than a cabin full of the same equipment.
It seems to me, also, that the whole issue could be solved by more effective screening. In this respect, a laptop or camera packed in a large suitcase is less likely to be screened effectively than if it is taken individually through the equipment at security. If screening is not going to be completely effective, there is a real possibility of a total ban on larger electronic devices. We come back to iPhones and Ricoh GRs, assuming they can be excluded on size alone.
I am not optimistic. No one could object to inconvenience if it were proved to be absolutely necessary. But past experience shows that these bans are often arbitrary and over-zealous, not to mention ultimately ineffective.