WASHINGTON - The busy summer travel season is almost here, and there could be a big change on the way for passengers who travel overseas. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering expanding a ban on laptops and other large electronics to include commercial flights crossing the Atlantic Ocean into the United States, and the change could come as soon as this week.
Officials tell FOX 5 at the root of it all is real concern that airport screenings are not able to detect explosives that could be planted inside laptop computers or larger electronic devices. This spring, DHS banned passengers from carrying electronic devices larger than a cell phone in the cabins of flights from locations in the Middle East and north Africa bound for the United States. That ban could expand to airports across Europe and Great Britain.
A spokesperson for DHS confirmed to FOX 5 that widening of the electronics ban is under consideration. However, while no final decisions have been made on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices, a spokesperson said they are continuing to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travelers safe.
Michael O'Hanlon, Homeland Security expert at the Brookings Institute, says Islamic extremist terror groups remain committed to blowing up an airliner.
"There is just nothing more stunning visually than an airplane going down in flames," O'Hanlon explained. "There is nothing that's going to be more cataclysmic to a couple of hundred people in one fell swoop, and there's nothing that's going to be a buzz of discussion for months on end in the western world."
Transportation security sources tell FOX 5 that if the changes do go through, passengers flying to the U.S. from Europe would have to carry laptops, tablets, eReaders, DVD players, cameras and handheld video games in their checked luggage instead of in their carry-on bag. Nothing larger than a cell phone would be permitted in the cabin.
So far, FOX 5 is told there are no plans to expand the restrictions to domestic flights inside the U.S.
The airline industry has pushed back on the proposed changes. The International Air Transport Association, which speaks for 265 airlines around the world, says the ban is not a long-term solution to the problem, and it would cause flight attendants to have to have to police their aircraft cabins to make sure no one has brought a prohibited device onboard.
Passengers who spoke to FOX 5 on Tuesday said the changen would be an inconvenience, but they've seen those before in the name of tighter security, and travelers have adapted just fine. It just might mean an extra checked bag, or for frequent fliers, possibly buying a smaller device.