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Laptop ban in aircraft cabins – the contagion takes hold

March 21, 2017

Following on from my last post about the US ban on devices larger than phones in cabin baggage, it wasn’t fake news. Britain is following suit, so it must be true! Canada is thinking about doing likewise, so I suppose it won’t be long before every country indicates its preference for having explosive devices blow up in the holds of their aircraft rather than in the cabin.

Again, I have to ask whether this initiative is based on real intelligence – the stuff gleaned by spooks – or as the result of some enthusiastic helper in the White House trying to convince us – and particular the American public – that we really are in danger because of some evil new technique dreamed up by ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Iranians or whoever.

I don’t know, and I can’t know. But I will offer the observation that as soon as you treat spook-derived intelligence as an opportunity to advance your political agenda rather than deal with it on its own merits, then you increase the chance that people will think you’re crying wolf. Fake news begets fake intelligence, right?

This must be tough to bear for the spooks who, whatever games their political masters get up to, are without question dedicated, professional and patriotic – in my country and America, at least. All the worse when their masters turn on them should the “one in a hundred” plot succeed.

In my dark moments I’m starting to wonder where this will all lead.

What will those devilish scientists beavering away in a tunnel somewhere under Raqqa come up with next? Perhaps some explosive that can impregnate a physical book – you open the book and it automatically detonates. Then think of a cheese sandwich. What horrors might lurk inside the filling? So no books allowed, and no food.

And if you happen to be travelling from Kuala Lumpur, will you be allowed to bring a perfume atomiser under the 100g limit? After all, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother was snuffed out with a hankie impregnated with VX gas. Someone running up the aircraft spraying that stuff would leave half the passengers in their death throes within minutes. So no containers of any liquid, no matter what the size.

Are we approaching the point where anyone with a brown skin and a name that sounds vaguely Muslim (or North Korean) will only allowed on the aircraft handcuffed and sedated? Yes, I know this post is getting silly, but the serious point is this: where do you draw the line? Or rather, where do you draw the line without making air travel unpalatable to the majority of passengers, and seriously antagonising a good proportion of them?

Or to look at it another way, are we so nannied that we’re unable to face the reality that there are many ways to die in an aircraft, and being blown up is by no means the most likely cause of death. Flying is risky. But not half as much as driving a car while eating a cheese sandwich or talking on a mobile phone.

For goodness sake, one of the risks of living is that at some stage we might die. Hopefully this nonsense will pass before we become afraid to step out of our homes unless we’re dressed in a flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet.

Before that baleful eventuality comes to pass, you have to reckon that the more the safety experts do to protect us by anticipating threats to the nth degree, the greater the chance that international travel as we know it today will shrivel and die. It will once again become a pastime only for the wealthy. The rest of us will take the train or go on our holidays to Bognor Regis or Coney Island.

Is this the post-globalisation world that the protectionists and isolationists wish upon us? Probably not, and as soon as the airlines start imploding you can rely on them to fight back. They will put pressure on Trump, May and all the other political leaders who justify ever more ridiculous measures with the mantra that that they have our safety at heart.

If it brought some small measure of sanity back to the experience of flying, I for one would gladly sign a disclaimer stating that I am aware that the aircraft I travel in is at risk of being crashed into a skyscraper, blasted out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, blown to smithereens by a bomb in the hold (or the cabin), because that’s reality.

As things are, I don’t care if I can’t have my laptop or tablet in the cabin if that’s what it takes to reduce the chances of my violent death from one in a million to one in ten million.

But I’m not convinced that that will be the outcome. And I refuse to live my life – in an aircraft or anywhere else – with the grinning spectre of Osama bin Laden constantly in attendance.

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