Preparing for a Laptop Ban
May 29, 2017 -- Oh, so now you're worried. Good.

We've warned for weeks that the sky-is-falling hothouse flowers at Homeland Security were gearing up for an in-flight electronics ban on flights from Europe. But yesterday, Secretary John Kelly, until January a career military man, raised the ante even further. As if he was thinking about nothing more consequential than buying a pack of gum, he said he might soon impose a global ban on laptops and tablets in passenger cabins.

Of course, Kelly can't point to a specific threat--and doesn't seem to have any clue about the disruption to global business, estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Not to mention the dangerous condition an expanded electronics ban would create: cargo holds stuffed with lithium batteries, whose fires burn too hot for existing aircraft fire-suppression systems to handle. Apparently, in Kelly's mind, it's fine if planes explode--so long as it's not terrorism, just an "accidental" event caused by a battery fire.

More on that when and if Kelly decides to make our lives on the road miserable. In the interim, however, you need to be prepared if a ban hits while you're on the road. As you can see by the Delta Air Lines sign that inadvertantly went up at airports earlier this month, the airlines have been informed the ban is coming. Like us, however, the only thing they don't know is when.

A form of the ban already exists from several Middle Eastern airports, but that affects only a few dozen daily flights. An electronics ban on flights from Europe is an entirely different issue. Nearly five dozen airports in Europe have nonstop service to the United States and there are about 400 daily flights involved.

If you're flying to Europe in the days ahead, you'll need to think about how to get your electronics home if a ban is imposed while you're gone. Please read the advice and opinions we've offered in recent weeks (see below). And take these steps:

1. Edit your gear. Carry as few devices as possible. Security agents have been overly aggressive in their interpretation of the existing Middle East ban. There have been reports that headphones and even battery-operated toothbrushes have been shunted to checked bags. So jettison book readers, music players and anything else you can. Travel with only a laptop or a tablet if possible.

2. Grab a box. Amazon sells shipping boxes appropriate and acceptable for electronics shipments. FedEx sells them, too. Local UPS stores may also stock boxes. You'll need an approved carton to ship items home, which is safer than dumping your valuable electronics into checked bags.

3. Know the rules. International shippers such as FedEx and DHL aren't big fans of moving devices with lithium batteries. Both have elaborate rules and restrictions. (See here and here.) Wherever you are in the world, know where the FedEx and DHL acceptance stations are located.

4. Use Luggage Forward. If you have an approved shipping box, you can turn your electronics over to Luggage Forward, the excellent baggage-shipment firm. It is already prepared to accept your gear at reasonable prices.

5. Move data to the cloud. It's one thing to lose your electronic device. It's disastrous if you lose your data. Make sure your work is stored--or backed up--in the cloud. Consider purging sensitive information from your devices, too.

6. Think twice about checking. I know it's easier to shrug your shoulders and say, "The hell with it, I'll just check my electronics if the ban comes." Bad idea. Besides the obvious problems--the airlines could lose your bag or your devices could be damaged in transit--consider this: When the ban comes, flights headed to the United States instantly become a cornucopia of easily stolen and fenced electronic gear. Even the most honest baggage handler will be tempted to dip into bags being checked on a U.S.-bound flight.

7. Get a burner device. I've recently picked up a cheap Chromebook. For just $130, I grabbed a device that is light, rugged and stores virtually all data in the cloud. Better yet, the Chrome operating system offers free apps that work seamlessly with existing Windows and Mac OS programs. -- Joe Brancatelli

The Workarounds
Homeland Security Secretary Kelly keeps insisting that he may soon ban large electronics in-flight. So I tried to beat the rush and purchased a $130 Chromebook. After several weeks of beating on it on the road, I'm surprised by what it can do. And its quirks. By and large, though, it's a surprisingly good "burner" device for what may soon be the newest new normal.

How dangerous is the electronics ban imposed this week by Homeland Security? As Barton Keyes, the canny insurance investigator in Double Indemnity, once said in another context, "It's not twice as safe. It's ten times twice as dangerous." Well, I have ten practical workarounds that will allow you to stay entertained and keep productive if you're flying from the affected nations.

If the laptop ban comes into effect, we may have to switch to burner laptops, essentially disposable computers that we can toss in our checked bag without regret. The good news? Chomebooks are the perfect solution: They are light, cheap, rugged and your data is safely stored in the cloud. Here are some of the best choices. You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll adapt to the newest "new" normal.

The United States is about to widen its ban on electronics to cover all flights from Europe. Here are several suggestions on how to prepare for and respond to the inevitable. You need to increase your device's security, have plenty of backup and physically protect your devices from damage and theft. The work isn't difficult, but you need to plan your responses before you fly.

The Realities
There is no way that I would willingly leave my laptop at home in Maine while I am traveling around another continent for more than two weeks. Trouble is, there is nothing simple about this laptop ban--or about making a decision as to whether I take the MacBook with me. There are consequences no matter what I do. Potentially catastrophic consequences.

The looming threat of laptop computers and other electronic devices banned from passenger cabins is being met with shock and disbelief by American business travelers. Far more than an inconvenience, veteran road warriors worry about the safety and security of their devices and data if Homeland Security forces them to stow digital gear in the belly of aircraft.

The chest-beating, hair-pulling, primal-scream consternation of business flyers reacting to the pending loss of laptops and tablets on board flights from Europe can be heard around the globe. But If laptops and tablets and E-book readers do disappear from airplane cabins, we may find that it's a mixed blessing. I don't support a ban, but I can see some upside.

Part of me actually thinks this possible laptop ban could be good. I put the safety of all flyers ahead of my own convenience. Besides, a mobile phone can entertain and inform me on the road just fine. The logic behind a ban is compelling. There’s a lot of space in the battery compartment. If there’s no battery in place that space could be put to nefarious purposes.

This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.