Officials said recent intelligence gave them reason to believe the Islamic State is developing a bomb that can be hidden in laptop computers.
“We have reason to be concerned about attempts by terrorist groups to circumvent aviation security and terrorist groups continue to target aviation interests,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a press release.
The American ban, developed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, applies to 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries — Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and Qatar.
The British ban applies to all inbound flights to the United Kingdom from six Muslim-majority countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia.
David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said federal departments responsible for instituting the ban must have had a compelling reason to do it.
“I don’t think they would implement a new requirement unless they had credible evidence that some individuals or groups might be adopting this tactic,” he said.
Schanzer said it is possible for people to bypass the ban.
“It does make it somewhat possible to circumvent the ban by having an attacker use a different airport than is on the list,” he said.
The restriction has received criticism, including from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a live television interview after Turkey’s Ataturk International Airport was added to the list, Erdogan said the bans are excessive.
“My hope is that they abandon this error as soon as possible,” he said.
Affected airlines have spoken out on the issue as well, with Royal Jordanian Airlines tweeting a sarcastic list of 12 things passengers can do on a 12-hour flight with no laptop or tablet.
Emirates Airlines also jokingly addressed passengers via Twitter.
“Who needs tablets and laptops anyway?” the airline said. “Let us entertain you.”
The Department of Homeland Security said a small percentage of flights to the United States will be affected, and the exact number will vary on a day-to-day basis.
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association estimated that about 350 flights to the United States will be affected per week.
In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security said these changes will likely result in delays as officials screen baggage before returning it to passengers. It recommends affected passengers contact their airlines to rebook flights if they expect delays to be an issue.
The ban will remain in place until the threat changes, the Department of Homeland Security said.
Given the secretive nature of the intelligence motivating the ban, Schanzer said all anyone can do is hope the government is acting appropriately.
“Since we don’t really know what’s driving it, we’re left to put our faith in the authorities and the government agencies, that they know what they’re doing, ” he said. “And they’re taking whatever steps they think are prudent and necessary in time.”