A wider in-flight electronics ban has these flyers crying foul

The possibility that a ban on many electronic devices aboard U.S.-bound planes could be expanded has business travelers on edge. U.S. officials are said to be mulling a wider ban on the use of devices such as such as tablets, laptops and cameras than the one enacted earlier this year for flights originating in 10 Middle East and North African airports. Several locations in Europe could be added to that list.

The Global Business Travelers Alliance (GBTA), a trade group representing corporate travel managers, is concerned that extending the ban may create problems for business fliers. That's because they're trained to keep their devices in their sight at all times for security purposes since they may contain sensitive data.

"We support TSA's efforts in securing our airways and believe they should take all necessary steps to do so," said GBTA Executive Director Michael McCormick in a statement. "However, the question remains whether the targeted application of policies banning personal electronics is an effective measure to reduce the risk of terrorism. These policies do impact business travelers' ability to stay connected as well as cause conflicts with existing risk management procedures."

The existing ban has already created problems for business travelers, nearly half of whom said in a GBTA survey that they prefer to stay connected in-flight so they can get work done. McCormick urged the Department of Homeland Security to expand and enhance so-called trusted traveler programs, which enable to people to clear airport security on an expedited basis, and to expand other preflight security screenings.

According to Brian Sumers of the travel industry business site Skift, business travelers flying in from the Middle East are uneasy about storing their laptops full of confidential information in the plane's cargo hold. Travelers might wind up delaying nonessential trips to Europe, rather than worry about getting their laptops back from an airline if the ban is expanded, he said.

"An expanded electronics ban will be disastrous for business travelers," said Sumers. "It is not 1974 anymore. A business traveler on an 11-hour flight from London to Los Angeles expects to be as productive on the flight as at the office. Airlines are spending big money on Wi-Fi, and increasingly business travelers expect to be fully connected on a long flight -- with laptops, not iPhones. There is no doubt that an electronics ban will hurt employee productivity."

Weekly meetings between the DHS and the airline industry are ongoing as officials discuss the potential disruptions that an expanded ban may cause. A decision by the DHS Secretary John Kelly is expected within the next few weeks. A department official told CBS News that "certainly more than a couple" of airports are being considered in the expanded ban, though the agency stressed in an official statement that it has made no decisions.

A spokesman for Airlines for America, the industry's main trade group, said it would be premature to speculate on a new security directive before it's officially announced. 

Former top TSA officials indicate to CBS News that a laptop ban had been discussed for more than a year dating back to an attack on a Somali airliner. The sense then was a total or widespread ban was impractical and would lead to an outcry from business travelers.

Even just talk of an expanded ban seems to be having that exact effect.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.