By Alana Wise and Nelson Wyatt
NEW YORK/MONTREAL (Reuters) – The leading international airline trade organization’s top official on Tuesday denounced U.S. and British bans on some electronic devices on flights from several Muslim-majority countries, criticizing the policies as a move toward “more restricted borders and protectionism.”
Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), questioned the efficacy of the bans on devices larger than a cellphone, in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.
The restrictions, announced last week, apply to direct flights to Britain and the United States from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate,” de Juniac said. “Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness.”
The American regulations were prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices in electronic gadgets. They require that devices larger than a cellphone, including laptops and tablets, must be stowed with checked baggage on U.S.-bound passenger flights from airports in 10 Muslim-majority countries.
Britain followed suit shortly after with a similar ban on larger carry-on electronics on direct flights from six countries. France and Canada said last week that they were examining their policies.
A U.S. security official told Reuters on Tuesday that the electronics restrictions were a “calculated move” based on reliable intelligence. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated that the United States would stick with the policy.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces U.S. national security measures, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on de Juniac’s criticisms.
De Juniac said the bans created severe “commercial distortions.”
“We call on governments to work with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their personal electronics,” he said.
In a phone interview with Reuters following his speech, de Juniac admonished the U.S. and UK governments for what he characterized as “no coordination at all” in enforcing the policy.
The airports covered by the U.S. ban differ from those in the UK one, and de Juniac questioned why the two countries did not have a common list.
“The discrepancy is harming the credibility of the measure itself,” he said.
(Reporting by Nelson Wyatt in Montreal and Alana Wise in New York; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Ayesha Rascoe; Writing by Alana Wise; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)