US plans enhanced airline security
KHARTOUM: A US Supreme Court decision allowing partial implementation of President Donald Trump’s travel ban has stirred anger and confusion in parts of the Middle East, with would-be visitors worried about their travel plans and their futures. The blanket 90-day ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – and a 120-day ban on all refugees was completely blocked by lower courts after Trump issued it on March 6, saying it was needed to prevent terrorism attacks.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled the bans could proceed, though only for foreigners with no “bona fide relationship” with an American entity or person, and it did not specify what that meant. The ruling left some in the Middle East wondering if they would be able to enter the United States. “It’s a big disappointment for me,” said a 52-year-old Sudanese man in the capital Khartoum, who believed he would now be rejected for a visa to visit relatives in the United States.
The man, who declined to be identified, said he wouldn’t know the outcome until at least Sunday, when the US Embassy opens again after a string of national holidays. “I’ve travelled to America before and I don’t know why I’m prevented from travelling (now). I didn’t violate American law during my previous visits,” he told Reuters. At the US Consulate in Dubai, where there is normally a queue out the door of people waiting to process visa applications, a Reuters reporter saw few people.
Middle East airlines have yet to receive a directive from the United States following the ruling, industry sources told Reuters yesterday. The sources said US flights would continue to operate as normal until guidance is received. Major airlines based in the region include Dubai-based Emirates Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways. Iranian nationals attempting to get visas at the US Embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara – Washington does not have an embassy in Iran – also expressed concern.
“What is the reason behind this law? It’s all very unclear,” said Masoud, a 28-year-old engineer who was applying for a student visa after being accepted into a doctoral program at a university in Dallas, Texas. “This is not fair.” Nearby, another Iranian national, 27-year-old Nima, also said he was hoping to get a visa to pursue an advanced degree in the United States. “I just hope that I can get my visa soon and on time,” he told Reuters. “We don’t know anything about where this may lead, but I wish they would extract Iran from this country list.”
Meanwhile, the US Homeland Security Department was set to announce new security measures yesterday for international flights bound to the United States, which could lead to a lifting of a ban on laptops and other electronics from passenger cabins from certain airports. Industry and US officials briefed on the announcement said airlines flying directly to the United States will be required to implement the enhanced measures. If they don’t, their passengers may be barred from carrying laptops and other large electronics in passenger cabins.
Such a laptop ban has been in place at 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa since March amid concerns about an undisclosed threat described only as sophisticated and ongoing. The ban applies to nonstop flights to the United States from Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The roughly 50 affected flights are on foreign airlines.
The new policy will provide a roadmap for airlines and airports that could lead to those bans being lifted. Neither official provided a timeline for compliance. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the changes publicly before the government announcement yesterday afternoon. The government had been considering expanding the laptop ban to include some European airports. The new measure sidetracks those plans, though they could resurface if airlines don’t comply with the new guidelines.
The changes comes after the Transportation Security Administration said this month that it is testing computed-tomography, or CT, scanning at one checkpoint at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The technology is already used for screening checked luggage, but the cost and larger size of the CT scanners has held back their use for carry-on bags. TSA had expected to begin testing CT scanners for carry-on luggage by the end of 2016.
CT scanners create a 3-D image that can be rotated to give screeners a better look. Suspicious bags can be pulled aside and opened by screeners. American Airlines, which is participating in the test, said the technology could let passengers leave laptops, liquids and aerosols in their carry-on bags, speeding up the trip through the airport.
The test comes as US officials scramble to deal with potential new threats, including reports that terrorists are developing bombs that can be disguised as laptop batteries. The ban on laptops in the cabin is based on the belief that a bomb in the cargo hold would need to be bigger than one in the cabin, and capable of remote detonation. Plus, checked luggage already goes through computed-tomography screening while carry-on bags don’t. – Agencies