The ban on carrying laptops into the aircraft cabin, currently in place for several countries in the Middle East, is rumored to be extended to cover all European destinations including the UK. This afternoon the team at Copenhagen Optimization discussed what it will mean for airports and the passenger experience for the Europe – U.S. traffic.
Read our take on the three major impacts on airport operations here:
The ban will lead more passengers to check-in bags.
Based on our work with several airports that serve a large number of U.S. destinations, we find that on average approx. 85% of passengers are already checking in one or more bags. For passengers already checking in, the only change would be putting the laptop into the checked bag. To estimate the increase in checked bags, we discussed the split between passengers leaving the laptop at home against the passengers opting to check-in a bag to make sure their laptop is traveling with them. Best guess was that most passengers will check-in a bag, say an added 10%. So what does an added 10% of passengers checking in for U.S. destinations mean?
To answer that question, we need to consider the type of check-in. Let us use London Heathrow Airport as an example. For British Airways, their check-in operation in Terminal 5 would be affected, though not significantly as the operation covers all destinations served. This would be true for all hub carrier check-in areas where U.S. flights are not making up a significant share of passengers checking in. Now consider a carrier like American Airlines operating out of Terminal 3 at London Heathrow. This check-in area serves U.S. destinations only so a 10% increase in passengers using check-in could lead to added demand for open check-in counters. Last, consider a carrier operating a single U.S. flight. In this case, there could be a need for an added open check-in counter to stay within the targeted service level. To conclude, effects on airport check-in capacity are limited.
Next on our list was baggage. Clearly, more bags would be checked-in and to the extent that the U.S. flights operate in the peak period of the airport, this could lead to additional pressure on the baggage system. As with check-in, we would not consider the effect to be significant.
On to security, where fewer passengers would be carrying a laptop through the security control meaning fewer trays per passenger leading to an expected higher passenger throughput (as the x-ray machine is the bottleneck so fewer trays mean fewer images means higher passenger throughput). At first glance, a positive effect on security. Only caveat, what if the airline tries pushing the control of laptop carrying U.S. bound passengers to security? This would be highly disruptive if security staff should start asking all passengers for their boarding card while divesting. Also, what if a U.S. bound passenger did have a laptop? Should the passengers be turned away? A quick office vote showed that all were in favor of no destination check at security. So the security control process would benefit from a laptop ban.
The gate operation becomes the real bottleneck in a widespread ban
We asked ourselves a lot of questions:
How many passengers will knowingly or unknowingly carry their laptop all the way to the gate?
How will the process at the gate change and can airport infrastructure handle this?
Who will pay for the added security check staff required?
How to get a significant increase in staff in a busy summer period?
Will there be enough security scanner and x-ray equipment available?
What happens if a passenger unknowingly has carried a laptop all the way to the gate with no option of checking in the laptop (for instance if the passenger only has a single carry-on item)?
We debated the answers but came up short in having accurate answers to the questions. What we agreed on is that a ban will bring significant impact on cost, on-time performance, and passengers potentially not wanting to board the flight.
The risk of mishandling in the baggage reclaim
On arrival, more passengers would line up to collect their bags, and an increased number of smaller bags would circle. This could increase the risk of mishandling with smaller bags not being as sturdy as large, standard hold baggage. Also, it could influence flows in the baggage reclaim hall.
To sum it up, the passenger, used to traveling hand luggage only, is most impacted by the ban. Airports may experience added check-in and reclaim demand, though we expect it to be minor. Largest airport effect will be for increased security equipment. Airlines may face delays and added staff for hand luggage screening/searching.
The winner in case of a laptop ban: Air Canada who will see frequent travelers selecting to transfer through the Air Canada hubs in Toronto and Vancouver when going to the U.S.
We would very much welcome your input and continue our office talks online.
More on the laptop ban: