With the announcement that the Trump administration is looking at the possibility of extending the ban on laptop computers from certain Middle East airports to include Europe, most commentators have focused on the inconvenience, lost productivity, and potential reduction in business travel demand. This article in the Harvard Business Review focuses instead on risks to intellectual property and corporate secrets, focusing on countermeasures that should be taken if laptops are indeed forced to be checked in luggage. From intelligence agencies to competitors, there are people trying to obtain corporate secrets, often with the help of their governments.
This is, of course, on top of the potential safety risk of having a number of volatile Lithium-ion batteries in the cargo hold. If one of the batteries in the cargo hold overheated and started a fire, imagine the impact of 100 batteries on fire from checked laptops, tablets, and other devices. We’ve seen a number of cargo planes crash as a result of Li-Ion batteries in their cargo holds catching fire, and those crashes are well documented. Li-Ion batteries as cargo have been banned from passenger planes, for good reason. But does putting a bunch of laptops in the hold create the same potential hazard? We previously posted this story that shows the difficulty in putting out a Li-ion battery fire.
Perhaps airport screening for laptops will need to revert to tried and true capabilities – the bomb-sniffing dog. The X-Ray machines at airports seem to be the same worldwide, and expertise at interpreting the spaghetti of wires normally associated with briefcases like mine (between laptop, tablet, phones, and their associated cords, USB sticks, portable recharging batteries) doesn’t seem to be different at any of the airports I’ve been to.
The question we all must ask is whether the cure is worse than the disease, and the relative risks of aircraft fire and both physical and intellectual property theft against the small chance of a laptop with explosives not being detected? If TSA wants to expand Pre-Check, one sure-fire way to gain enrollment would be to permit those with pre-check to bring laptops aboard, while not allowing others. That would be more effective than any advertising and membership campaign and swamp the enrollment centers quickly.