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U.K. Joins U.S. In Restricting Electronic Devices On Some Flights


Today we have learned that both the United States and the United Kingdom are putting in place new restrictions on the electronics that can be brought on airplanes. Passengers flying to the U.S. and the U.K. from many airports in the Middle East and North Africa will be barred from carrying on devices larger than a cellphone.

NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here to talk about this. Hello, there.


MCEVERS: So these announcements from the U.S. and the U.K. came very close together. Are the rules the same from both countries?

MYRE: Almost identical. Smartphones are essentially the only electronic device that will be allowed on a plane. Anything bigger - laptops, tablets, cameras, DVD players - they are going to have to go into checked baggage.

These measures don't ban any passengers, and they don't bar any items that are currently permitted on planes. But these rules are going to apply to every passenger, regardless of the nationality.

MCEVERS: And passengers coming from where exactly?

MYRE: Well, the lists are a little bit different. The U.S. has eight countries on its list, and Britain has six. Now, this difference seems to be based a little bit on which airlines are flying in and out of the countries. But what was really striking about the U.S. list is these are eight good allies, very traditional allies of the U.S. in pretty stable countries. There's four wealthy Gulf nations - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates - and then four other allies - Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

It's really the absolute opposite demographic of what we've seen with President Trump's immigration order. These were poor, troubled countries, many of them at war. You think of these countries and you think of a Syrian refugee. But you think of these countries on the airline list, and you're talking about a wealthy businessman, jet setting around the world.

MCEVERS: Are U.S. and British airlines affected by the move at all, or does this just apply to foreign airlines?

MYRE: U.S. airlines are not affected, and the main reason seems to be U.S. carriers are not flying from any of these Middle Eastern countries directly into the United States. That's different in Britain's case. And so they've listed six of their own airlines that will have to follow these rules, and that includes British Airways.

MCEVERS: And why are they doing this now? I mean, does this come from a specific security threat?

MYRE: If it does, we are not aware of it. We got briefed by the Trump administration on Monday evening, and they talked in very general terms about analyzing the intelligence and elevated intelligence. But they didn't give any specifics, and this is a known kind of threat. It's something that's been talked about for several years, the possibility of an explosive placed in a laptop or some sort of electronic device. So it's nothing new, which makes you wonder, is there something new that they found?

In general, in the region, the main thread in U.S. terms has been from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or essentially al-Qaida in Yemen. And they in particular have a bomb maker who's considered very skilled, Ibrahim al-Asiri. So this has been the focus of the U.S. in recent years. Yemen doesn't fly directly to the U.S., but it is near these Gulf states that are on the list.

MCEVERS: And some of these carriers, like you said, like Emirates and other airlines, I mean, they cater to business travelers, people who presumably like their laptops. I mean, has there been any response from these airlines?

MYRE: The airlines have issued very straightforward statements saying they're going to implement these orders as given by the U.S. and by Britain. We are hearing some grumbling from passengers who are used to their creature comforts on these flights. And Emirates, for example, is trying to make the best of it. They tweeted today, who needs laptops and tablets anyway?

MCEVERS: (Laughter) That's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thank you.

MYRE: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.