Beginning Saturday March 25, in response to increased security concerns, laptops and other “large electronics” will be banned from carry-on luggage for travelers coming to the US and UK directly from various airports in the Middle East. Checking a laptop or other device will not only make a flight seem even longer, but will also violate a cardinal rule of IT security: never check your laptop. Doing so risks loss of the device and all data it contains. Travelers should avoid checking laptops to the maximum extent possible, even where this extends travel time or cost.
According to media reports, the US and British restrictions on electronics involve direct flights to the US and UK from airports in the Middle East. The US action includes flights from Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The UK ban includes Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
For travelers to the US, these new measures impact travel on non-US carriers since no US airlines operate direct flights to the US from the affected airports. For those traveling to the UK, however, the restrictions include British Airways and other UK airlines.
The impact of these new measures will be mixed. Many US government funded contractors and NGOs must comply with Fly America regulations which compel them to use a US carrier, generally from the "furthest point possible" – most often an interchange point in Europe which will not be directly impacted (other than the UK, of course). That may limit the impact on this group of travelers. Commercial businesses, personal travelers and nonprofits using private/non-USG funds may be the hardest hit since they're the most likely to use these direct flights by non-US carriers. Travelers from these destinations to the UK may be more universally impacted.
The principle risk for travelers is the potential for data and property loss by checking a laptop or other device. Mitigation is largely about altering travel patterns. For travelers to the US, this means avoiding direct, non-US carrier flights and, instead, traveling through foreign interchange points (other than the UK) and into the US on US/European carriers. This will boost cost and may extend travel time but will considerably mitigate the risk of checking a laptop. Travelers from the impacted airports to the UK can follow a similar workaround by traveling through interchange points in other European countries. Of course, this guidance will have to be re-evaluated if other countries join the US and UK in these restrictions.
If avoiding one of the impacted flights is not possible, consider travel with a "clean" laptop – i.e. one with the minimum amount of data necessary. "Loaner" laptops work well for this since they don't contain years of accumulated work product or personal documents that may be irreplaceable. Before departing a location where it's necessary to check a device, back up and remove data so the device is virtually empty. Better yet, if the infrastructure allows, store work in the cloud so there is minimal data on the device anyway – making pre-flight cleaning even easier.
As with so many risks impacting today’s global travelers, this situation will continue to evolve and mitigation may need to evolve as well. Travelers should monitor events and seek guidance from IT, travel and security teams, or an external travel risk management assistance provider, to keep current about risks and mitigation measures.