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In-flight electronics ban sparks robust debate

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In March this year the UK and USA banned carry-on electrical devices on flights coming from the Middle East or North Africa. The US Department of Homeland Security said passengers travelling from those airports could not bring devices that are larger than a mobile phone, such as tablets, portable DVD players, laptops and cameras into the main cabin. Instead, such items must be in checked baggage.

Campus Travel recently spoke to academic and commentator David Glance - Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia – to learn more about the new travel regulations and how the impact academic travellers.

From a technical security point of view, David concedes that the ban seems to make little sense - particularly since airlines were already reticent to transporting lithium batteries, which are used in electronic devices, in aircraft holds, as they posed a fire risk. This is a view shared by many travel bodies, including the IATA (International Air Transport Authority) which says the ban ‘was a poorly thought out’ strategy.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the ban and the countries included in the electronics ban, it looks like the restrictions are here to stay. David believes that it’s still too early to say if the ban will genuinely change the behaviour of academic travellers. However travel insiders have weighed in to the discussion raising questions as to whether travellers would change their usual flight routes, opting to go through Asia rather than the Middle East for trips to the UK. The ban on carry-on luggage means that travellers from Australia may be without their electrical devices for the entire trip not just the last leg of the journey if they were headed to the UK and had a stopover in the Middle East. Although this was dependant on the airline. This has sparked debate as to whether people would change their itineraries in order to fly through Asia rather than the Middle East to avoid having to fly sans their devices.

Despite this, David commended the Middle Eastern based airlines, which have been quick to put practices in place to assist business travellers. In particular, they are allowing travellers to use their devices until boarding – before collecting and storing them safely during the flight.

Regardless of how airlines manage the ban, David urges all travellers to take precautions when their devices were not going to be in their possession at all times.

“Once your laptop or device is out of your sight, it is a concern,” said David. “And that applies to devices in transit, but also devices left in hotel rooms.” He adds that academics and researchers working on confidential projects should be especially conscious of protecting their work and sensitive information when abroad.

In response to the electronic devices ban David has offered a few tips for travellers:

  • Back-up your device and take all sensitive information off your device before you travel.
  • Store information on a USB which you should keep on your person.
  • Consider using a service such as Dropbox to store information which you can then access from anywhere.
  • If you’ve been working overseas, also take precautions before your return journey. Once again remove and back-up sensitive information and store it on a USB. Consider wiping all data from your device before travelling home.
  • Take an alternative cheaper tablet to use when travelling, in case it’s lost or damaged in the aircraft hold.
  • If you want to avoid the issue entirely, consider travelling with an airline that doesn’t go via an airport in one of the effected countries.


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