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Trump’s laptop ban could lead to 'runaway fires' in baggage hold: Expert

The cabin baggage ban on laptops and tablets on some direct flights to both the U.S. and U.K. has been questioned over its fire safety by one airline analyst.

In the United States, the ban affects planes coming from airports in Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait City, Qatar, Morocco Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A man uses his laptop on an airline flight.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
A man uses his laptop on an airline flight.

John Strickland, an aviation expert, and director at JLS Consulting, said Thursday that there was a real danger to loading a plane's hold with lithium battery items.

"If these batteries are damaged they could have this thermal runaway fire and that itself is a security challenge of a different kind that the airlines would have to wrestle with," he said.

Last year the UN aviation agency blocked cargo shipments of lithium-ion batteries, used in many such electronic devices, from being carried in the cargo holds on passenger planes.

Strickland added the fact that the European Union has not followed suit, raised questions over the ban's efficacy.

"Why are we not getting a follow through in Europe? Because there are other itineraries that customers can follow.

"And if they still wish to achieve a terrorist aim they can do it," he said.

Strickland claimed some airlines are already advertising that on their flights people do not have to pack away their electronic items.

He said business travelers from the Gulf to the United States will likely live with the ban, but those travelling via Asia may look for other routes and airlines will be sensitive to that.

"I wouldn't overplay that right now, but it is something airlines will be watching on their bookings, minute-by-minute, and hour-by-hour."

Ban 'slightly strange'

Paul Morigi | WireImage

Virgin founder and billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson told CNBC Thursday that airlines must obey the rules, though he questioned the U.S. government motive.

"Airlines just have to do what they are told and we just have to hope that people who make up these rules have good reasons to do so because the rules that were laid down by the American government on a number of airlines yesterday were slightly strange in that they only affected foreign airlines they didn't affect American airlines.

"I just wondered whether there might be more to it than met the eye," Branson told Squawk Box Europe.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents most of the world's major airlines, hinted the electronics ban may not have been thought through.

"Safety and security are the top priority of everyone involved in aviation," it said Tuesday.

"Airlines comply with government requirements and they can do this most effectively when measures are well coordinated."

One further concern is compensation for any damage of traveler items placed in the hold.

Most travel insurance policies offer strict upper limits on the amount they would pay out.

Research by U.K. consumer rights magazine Which? found that five major travel insurance companies in the U.K. did not cover "valuables" placed in the hold for loss, theft or damage.