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What The Hell Is Happening With The Electronic Devices Ban On Flights From The Middle East?

The ban on laptops in the cabin in direct flights to the UK affects different countries to restrictions announced by the US. Airlines have been given until Saturday to implement the new measures.

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What's going on?

This week the US Department of Homeland Security announced it was banning passengers from bringing laptops, tablets, and similar-sized electronic devices on direct flights to the US from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Hours later the UK government announced a similar ban, although the list of countries affected is slightly different. The Department for Transport told BuzzFeed News passengers should expect the measures to already be in effect, but that airlines had been told to implement them no later than this Saturday.

What items are banned?

Any electronic device larger than a smartphone will need to be checked into the cabin on the affected flights, including laptops, iPads and other tablets, Kindles, game consoles, and even cameras.

Why has this been announced?

The US said "evaluated intelligence" had indicated that terrorist groups were trying to smuggle explosive devices into consumer electronics goods. A US official told BuzzFeed News the ban had been pushed by the White House, and was spurred by increased chatter in recent weeks that militants wanted to hide bombs in laptops.

A spokesperson for Downing Street told BuzzFeed News that the decision by the UK government to announce a similar ban would be based on the same intelligence. "We're privy to the same intelligence as the Americans," the spokesperson said.

Which airports are affected?

The US ban applies to 10 airports that fly nonstop to American airports in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE.

The UK ban applies to direct flights to Britain from Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It's not known why there is a discrepancy between the two lists, but transport secretary Chris Grayling, answering an urgent question on the issue in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, said US security measures were "very much a matter for them".

A Downing Street spokesperson added that the two countries "each took our own decisions" based on the intelligence received.

Have other countries announced similar measures?

No. Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the three countries along with the US and UK that make up the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance, have so far not announced bans of their own.

What is the advice for passengers?

Speaking in the Commons, Grayling said he hoped the measures would be temporary. He tried to reassure passengers that the new restrictions did not mean the UK government did not trust the security at the affected airports.

"We are not saying to people, as a result of this change, stop flying on these routes," he said. "You should have more confidence flying on those routes as they will protect your safety."

ABTA, the UK's largest travel association, said some passengers may wish to consider leaving their electronic devices at home altogether.

What are the airlines saying?

Emirates president Tim Clark has questioned why some airports are not affected by the UK measures, but do fall under the new US restrictions.

"After all, if these devices are viewed by the United States and the United Kingdom as potential instruments of threat, they can be loaded on any airplane anywhere," he told CNN Money.

The US Travel Association hinted at frustration over the ban's sudden implementation. "Even with security as a justification, it does not absolve authorities of the responsibility to communicate," the group said.

Matthew Champion is a weekend editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Champion at matthew.champion@buzzfeed.com.

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