(CNN) – It’s happening. Already reports of passengers facing enhanced security and early enforcement of the electronics ban have reached social media.
So what’s it like to be screened for carry-on devices larger than a smartphone?
One business traveler who yesterday flew from Doha, Qatar to New York City and encountered the beginnings of the ban described the experience.
“The counter agent asked if I had any electronics on me. I told her my laptop and iPad were in my checked bags,” the flier, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “At the gate, when you go through secondary screening, the security agent asked me if I had any electronics. I said they were checked in.”
She added: “Right now they are only asking, not demanding. The passenger next to me originated somewhere other than Doha and had his iPad out [on the flight] the whole time.”
This interaction will grow more serious in coming days with the official start to the ban on March 25.
Those facing an affected flight should prepare themselves with information. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted online a fact sheet addressing the basic questions of why, where and what.
What the DHS doesn’t advise on is how passengers can best deal with the stress and risk of placing electronic items in checked baggage.
Here’s what else they need to know when it comes time to check in:
Can I avoid paying a penalty fee if I want to change or cancel my flight?
There are currently no airlines waiving rebooking or cancellation penalties, even if you beg and plead.
Choosing to cancel or change a flight itinerary on any of the nine airlines affected by the US ban will mean facing fees.
These airlines are Egyptair, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines and their affected airports for flights to the US include Cairo, Egypt; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, UAE; Istanbul, Turkey; Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; and Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Emirates is confirming change fees for individual customers on Twitter.
Other airlines, like Etihad and Qatar Airways, are also resolute about not waiving penalties.
When considering options, it’s worth keeping in mind that airline ticket cancellation fees average $200 per person and change fees skew higher, with the need to also pay a fare difference for preferred new dates of travel.
And, since the electronics ban is in place “indefinitely,” there’s no guarantee that moving travel to next week, next month, or even next year will put plans clear of the ban.
Sarah Grady, a Washington, D.C.-based traveler, tweeted her ban-influenced travel decision on Tuesday: “My family canceled its flight from Italy through Morocco. I wonder how many other US travelers are doing the same?”
She then confirmed to CNN that Royal Air Maroc did levy a cancellation charge: “There was a fee of $200 [per person], but it was cheaper than replacing broken/stolen laptops and cameras, so it was worth it!”
Group trips and travel agents aren’t having it any easier.
Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet Travel, shared her frustration with CNN.
“We offer tours that pass through a number of the airports and use several of the airlines mentioned in the ban,” she says. “We have already met with several of the carriers, and none have expressed any willingness to allow people to cancel flights and get fully reimbursed.
“Since this is a ban by the USA and not their home countries, they don’t feel they have any reason to waive cancellation fees. For passengers who are just booking tours with us, we are advising them of the new ban and offering other air options.”
Will my travel insurance cover my electronics if they’re stolen or broken in checked luggage?
Most airline contracts of carriage include a clause stating that damage or theft of electronic devices in checked luggage will not be covered by the airline. To make up for this lack of protection, consider purchasing travel insurance prior to beginning your trip.
Speaking with CNN, Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz Global Assistance, confirmed that not wanting to fly because of the electronics ban is not a reason to cancel a trip.
On the other hand, being stuck with your ticket isn’t the end of the world.
Allianz’s plans cover lost, stolen and damaged baggage for claims from $500 to $2,000, but the limit for electronics maxes out at only $500. While that’s reassuring, the amount is paltry compared to the retail prices of gadgets many travelers use today.
World Nomads does a little better, with a maximum $1,500 claim for an item damaged or stolen from baggage.
If flying and checking multiple or more valuable devices, it’s good to read the fine print of any homeowner’s policy or the purchase protection section of the benefits of the credit card used to originally buy the items. Coverage may already be offered through these channels.
Is there any travel gear that minimizes the risk of damage or theft to electronics in checked baggage?
CNN asked Brad John, co-founder of New York-based travel store Flight 001, about the best items for protecting and securing checked electronic items.
John suggests enveloping the gadgets in protective, padded sleeves and organizing them within a hard-shell suitcase.
“No solution is going to be perfect,” says John, but everything from TSA locks that cost a few dollars on up to “Pelican” cases and rigid aluminum luggage priced in the four digits are going to help better secure electronics facing the brutality of a baggage system.
John also reminds travelers of the danger of packing liquids with gadgets: “Store fluids or toiletries in a leak-proof plastic pouch when they’re sharing the same space as electronics.”
There’s also a chance that lithium-ion battery safe bags, which are fireproof and designed to contain a battery explosion, will enter the mainstream as an added layer of protection and peace of mind for travelers who cringe at the thought of an airplane cargo hold chock full of luggage loaded with electronics.
Can I use my electronics on an inbound connection via an affected hub and check them for the final leg to the US?
The airlines are still figuring this out, but Emirates just today announced a solution that allows fliers to keep their devices in hand until it’s time to fly.
This new service, available only at Dubai International Airport, will have US-bound passengers declaring and handing over their devices to security staff posted at the boarding gates. According to Emirates, the devices will then be “carefully packed into boxes, loaded into the aircraft hold and returned to the customer at their US destination.”
Airlines hate losing business as much as fliers rue having to part with their tech accessories for these flights.
For this reason, take comfort in the knowledge that brainstorming sessions are happening in airline conference rooms around the world, all with the goal of making the electronics ban as painless as possible.
Top: Passengers using their laptops during a flight. Photo: CNN
Inset: A graphic showing the impact of laptop ban. Image: CNN
SOURCE: CNN written by Cynthia Drescher