MIAMI – The United States may extend its ban on large electronics in the cabin to all flights between Europe and the United States, according to tweets from aviation analyst Alex Macheras. In a series of tweets Monday morning U.S. time, Macheras shared that the official announcement of the extended electronics ban would come from the White House later this week.
Breaking: The air travel #ElectronicsBan is preparing to be extended to ALL flights from Europe to USA, coming into effect in a few weeks.
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) May 8, 2017
At this time, Airways cannot confirm the veracity of these claims, but the same news has been reported by multiple news organizations such as CBS and Travel & Leisure.
The initial electronics ban in March affected travelers flying nonstop to the U.S. from 8 countries (Egypt, UAE, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia). Passengers on those flights are banned from carrying large electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, DVD players, and gaming devices like the XBOX, which instead must be checked in.
The United Kingdom joined the U.S. in banning large electronics in the cabin on flights from most of these countries, with the UAE and Qatar excepted, validating to some extent the intelligence that the Trump administration based its decision on. However, the European Union declined to join the U.S. and UK in banning cabin electronics from those countries.
New ban is exponentially more impactful
While the Middle East ban affected a couple million passengers per year, a ban on cabin electronics on flights from Europe to the U.S. would affect more than 25 million passengers, more than two-thirds of whom either fly on a US carrier or on a joint venture partner (profits that partially flow to the U.S. legacy airlines). And in general, the same analysis we shared then applies now.
Once again, much of the impact depends on the length of the ban. If it’s a short-term thing, then the impact will be limited. But if the ban stays in place for more than 3-4 months, then we could see a reshaping of the U.S. international air travel market itself. Of the 25 million passengers, about a third are connecting from outside of Europe, while two-thirds are either origin and destination(O&D) or connections on either the European end or the American end.
For the two-thirds that are Europe origin, there might be some impact, perhaps 2-3% as leisure and business passengers on the margins choose to delay American trips or choose other destinations. While large electronics don’t matter equally to everyone, they do matter a lot to a few people, and those people may choose on the margin to fly less to the United States.
Conversely, connecting passengers from outside of Europe will be where the biggest effect is seen. Passengers from Africa don’t have a great alternative, as Middle Eastern airports like Dubai and Doha would be the other natural connecting points for routings like Harare-New York. But African connections are maybe 10% of the total.
The rest, passengers from South Asia, East Asia, and even the Middle East will likely switch (at least in part) to flying via Asian hubs like Seoul and Hong Kong. Of the 8 or so million passengers that connect via Europe, it’s not unreasonable to believe that 500-700,000 passengers may eventually choose to book via a non-European routing. This could (conservatively) impact upwards of $500 million in revenue away from European carriers.
And the European carriers will likely have to adjust their revenue strategy in the same way that the Middle East giants have, discounting connecting opportunities deeply to attract more passengers. Conversely, the major beneficiaries will be carriers like Air India, based in the countries that drive connecting demand via Europe and that have nonstop flights to the U.S.
There will also be smaller, more subtle shifts in passenger demand and purchasing patterns due to the ban. There are the obvious pieces like passengers preferring airlines that hand out alternate devices in the cabin like Emirates and Qatar Airways in the Middle East.
But beyond that, you might expect to see (for example), leisure travelers with young children choose carriers with in-seat video at a higher volume to counteract the fact that they no longer have access to iPads for their children.
Global aviation is re-entering the age of security challenges
Without having a better sense of why the Trump administration made its initial decision on the electronics ban, or why it is considering extending the ban to Europe, it is hard to judge whether either ban is justified.
The UK’s extension of the ban at the very least suggests that there was credible intelligence, at least for the six common countries. But the EU’s refusal to also participate in the ban despite having the worst experience of any of the three regions with terrorism in the past 3-4 years says that the intelligence is also not necessarily universally alarming.
That may simply reflect different priorities between the Trump administration and European governments in terms of trading off security based on intelligence. The broader megatrend to consider is that we appear once again to be entering into an era where global geopolitics and security intersect unfortunately with global aviation.
Whether it’s terrorism at Istanbul Airport, the electronics ban, or no-fly zones over Syria, there is no way to escape the fact that global aviation is now in an era where restrictions and tradeoffs will abound.