The head of the Department of Homeland Security said Sunday that he is considering expanding the U.S. ban on laptops and larger electronics from carry-on bags in all international flights.
Since March, the U.S. has prohibited electronics larger than cell phones in the cabins of flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa because of concerns about hidden explosives.
John Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, told Fox News Sunday that he is considering “yes, well, expand a little bit” the ban to international flights into and out of the U.S.
“Well, there’s a real threat,” said Kelly, despite strong intelligence sharing between the U.S. and other countries. “But it is a real sophisticated threat and I will reserve that decision until we see where it’s going.”
The comments amplified what Kelly said Friday as he toured Washington Reagan National Airport on the eve of the busy summer travel season when he said he was working with airlines and security officials throughout Europe and Asia to raise the bar on aviation security.
Some airline pilots and safety advocates have questioned putting more electronics into checked luggage. In rare circumstances, lithium-ion batteries spark fires, which could go undetected in the cargo hold.
After reports the U.S. would expand the laptop ban to Europe, the British Airline Pilots’ Association said May 15 that the risk would be greater with electronics in cargo than in the cabin.
“Given the risk of fire from these devices when they are damaged or they short-circuit, an incident in the cabin would be spotted earlier and this would enable the crew to react quickly before any fire becomes uncontainable,” said Steve Landells, a flight-safety specialist for British pilots. “If these devices are kept in the hold, the risk is that if a fire occurs the results can be catastrophic.”
Kelly told reporters Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration tracks safety issues while he oversees security, but he’s been told that batteries in electronics should be safe in checked luggage so long as they are turned off and not rattling around loose.
“All of that will go into ultimately what I decide to do relative to electronic ban,” Kelly said. “We’ll make the right decision — I can guarantee. The threats are real.”
The Transportation Security Administration is experimenting at 10 U.S. airports with having passengers take their larger electronics out of carry-on bags, so that screeners can scrutinize the devices more closely. The clutter in carry-on bags sometimes makes it difficult to spot suspicious items. That greater scrutiny could be expanded to the entire country, Kelly told Fox News Sunday.
“We might and likely will,” said Kelly, although he didn’t say how soon. “Well, what we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques and procedures, if you will, in a few airports to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveler.”
Kelly said there are no specific threats against the U.S. for the Memorial Day holiday. But as the Islamic State is defeated in Syria and Iraq, fighters could spread to other regions, such as the bombing at a Manchester concert, he said.
“The point is, they have a real threat and it’s growing, it’s metastasized, as fighters come back from the caliphate to be — I believe — to be more of this kind of thing,” Kelly said.