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It's Only In Some Airports For Now, But The Laptop Ban Could Go Global

The world's busiest international airline is loading people's laptops into boxes at the departure gate. Security experts say it could become standard across the world.

Posted on March 24, 2017, at 4:47 p.m. ET

AP Photo

Major airlines affected by the ban on laptops and other electronic devices on US- and UK-bound flights have begun revealing how they'll and minimize the hassle for fliers.

Dubai-based Emirates, one of the world's biggest airlines, said it won't require passengers to pack their laptops and tablets into checked luggage. Instead, they'll be allowed to keep them all the way to the departure lounge. As they prepare to board, the devices will be put into secure boxes and loaded separately onto the aircraft, be be returned after landing.

Turkish Airlines will roll out a similar system, storing devices in foam covers inside special shatterproof boxes, according to comments made by the airline to Turkey's state news agency. It said it will guarantee passengers the items won't be damaged or lost.

For now, the system will only apply to US-bound flights from airports in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. The UK followed with its own ban, but did not include busy global air hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

But some security experts say that like other aspects of the airport safety ritual — limits on carry-on liquids, removing belts and shoes — what begun as a heightened measure on limited numbers of high-risk routes could eventually become commonplace across the world.

The ban "could be expanded because this network of bad people seems to be growing," John Goglia, an aviation safety consultant and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told BuzzFeed News

"Let’s not forget, it wasn't that long ago after 9/11 that they were banning all electronics," he added. "We may be going back to that."

In first announcing the ban, the Department of Homeland security said it was based on "evaluated intelligence...that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items."

In early 2016, a bomb disguised inside a laptop was successfully smuggled onto a flight from Somalia, headed to Djibouti. The laptop passed through an X-ray scan and was detonated during the flight, although the plane successfully landed.

A US official told BuzzFeed News that in recent weeks there has been an uptick in chatter among militants saying they want to hide explosives in computers.

"The TSA will want to take what they consider to be prudent steps if they have the intel to suggest that," Gary Kessler, chair of the security studies and international affairs department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told BuzzFeed News. "I have zero information, zero data, right now that makes me believe they’re going to expand it in the near future, but I would not be surprised if the intel drives them in that direction."

AP/Kamran Jebreili

But Kessler said that he hopes an expanded ban on electronics is "not the route we go."

"I think we need to come up with a better response to the threat," he said. "We spend so much time looking for high tech threats. It all comes down to how our stuff is being screened."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.