How to Deal With the Travel Ban on Laptops and Tablets

On March 21st, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that any personal electronics larger than a smartphone cannot be carried in the passenger cabin on US-bound flights originating from Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The airlines affected, all based in the Middle East, have 96 hours to implement the appropriate changes to ensure that non-compliant electronic devices are carried only in checked, not carry-on, luggage. The UK followed suit, implementing essentially the same policy for flights to the UK originating from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The reasons for the new policy by the US and British governments were not made entirely clear, but the US raid on Al-Qaeda forces in Yemen in January of this year apparently yielded intelligence about the terrorist organization’s development of “battery bombs” that could be large enough to destroy a commercial aircraft. Also cited were the destruction of a Russian A321 over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, and a bomb blast aboard a Somali A321 shortly after it left Mogadishu in February 2016, either or both of which may have been the target of battery bombs or similar devices.

While the ban on personal electronics in carry-on luggage affects only direct flights to the US and the UK from the countries noted above, it’s possible that the ban may be extended to other countries and maybe even to domestic flights in the US, UK and elsewhere.

If you rely on your laptop and/or tablet when traveling, what would you do if the ban suddenly applied to your next trip, as it already has for thousands of travelers? Here are some options:

  • The obvious (and worst) option is to travel with your laptop and tablet in checked luggage. While the rate of lost luggage, at least in the US, is relatively low at 3.09 bags per 1,000 passengers, a dramatic increase in number of laptops and tablets flying in checked luggage might motivate some baggage handlers to help themselves to the suddenly more valuable cargo. Even in the absence of theft, there is a significant risk that rough handling of luggage could damage the devices.
  • Another option is to work only from your smartphone. That will work for things like checking email and making presentations, but for writing, creating presentations or working with spreadsheets, that’s not a viable option.
  • A better option is to use a Windows to Go drive that will allow you to plug this USB device into any Windows-based computer or a Mac and use the computer only as a host. These bootable devices can be imaged with corporate applications and data, they store data only on the USB device leaving nothing on the host, and some are hardware-encrypted, providing a highly secure platform for storing data. Using a Windows to Go drive, a traveler could take with them an outdated Windows 7 or Windows 8 laptop that wouldn’t cause much angst if it was stolen, or they could borrow someone’s laptop at their destination.

There are a number of vendors that offer Windows to Go devices, including Kingston, Spyrus, Kanguru and Super*Talent. These devices offer a robust experience that is more or less indistinguishable from a native PC experience, they’re fairly inexpensive, and they are not likely to be the subject of a ban of the type discussed above. If you must have access to a laptop or tablet when traveling, Windows to Go drives should be an option you should evaluate sooner rather than later.