Tuesday, May 16, 2017
United Airlines Pilots Urge Airport-by-Airport Laptop Ban and Cockpit Security Gates
By Ted Reed
The leader of United Airlines' (UAL) 12,500 pilots said bans on laptops as carry-on baggage should be imposed based on the adequacy of security at individual airports.
A laptop ban is not only "a terrible inconvenience," but also putting dozens or more in an airplane's cargo hold is "a horrible idea," due to the potential danger from the heat generated by the device's lithium-ion batteries, said Todd Insler, chairman of the United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, in an interview.
"We all use laptops, but they get very hot," Insler said. "It's a bad idea to put them in cargo -- that's a substantial risk." Pilot spokesman Greg Everhard added, "There are two risk assessments -- a laptop bomb and a laptop fire and you cannot discount either one of these."
The Department of Homeland Security is considering expanding a ban on carrying on laptops and other large electronic devices to some European airports.
In March, the agency banned carried-on laptops on flights originating at 10 Middle East airports.
Insler, a New York-based Boeing 767 captain, said that security appears adequate at facilities such as Frankfurt Airport, Europe's fourth-busiest airport and a hub for United partner Lufthansa. "They have pretty strict screening," he said.
United carries a large proportion of business travelers who need access to laptops on long flights, he said. In decisions involving carry-on laptops, "governments should be required to have the capability to screen properly," not only in Europe but also in Asia, he said.
Additionally, in the wake of the disclosure that the security code that signals that someone wants access to United cockpits had been inadvertently disclosed, Insler advocated for the installation of metal gates as secondary barriers on all United aircraft.
He said United pilots have been seeking installation of secondary barriers for 16 years. "They are a sound business practice," he said, noting that Boeing has installed them on some but not all United aircraft. A United spokeswoman declined to comment on how many aircraft have gates.
The security leak occurred, Insler said, when a flight attendant who is part of a study group mistakenly posted "door codes" in a weekend communication with group members. The codes have since been changed, he said.
"Secondary barriers are a simple, inexpensive risk mitigation," Everhard said. "Until airlines step up to do the right thing, Congress needs to mandate installation; we continue to push for this legislation on the Hill."