iPad bomb plot allegedly led to electronic device ban on flights

A fake iPad stuffed with explosives allegedly contributed to the US and UK's ban on electronics in plane cabins.

airplane cabin Airbus plane A320
Credit: FACC AG

A plot allegedly involving an iPad bomb was one of the factors which sparked US and UK restrictions on bringing electronic devices larger than a smartphone into the passenger cabin of flights traveling from the Middle East.

It’s unclear if the alleged bomb was inside an iPad knockoff or used an iPad shell, but the tablet filled with explosives was not in itself enough to trigger the electronic device ban. An unnamed source told The Guardian that the US and UK bans “were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors.”

One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret.

Last week when DHS announced the restrictions of laptops, tablets, cameras, portable DVD players, e-readers and handheld gaming devices larger than a smartphone inside cabins on flights to the US from 10 airports in eight Middle Eastern countries, the agency said, “Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”

The UK quickly followed suit, placing a similar ban on devices larger than a normal-sized smartphone on flights to the UK from six countries. “We understand the frustration that these measures may cause and we are working with the aviation industry to minimize any impact,” the UK government said.

If the plot involving a fake iPad loaded with explosives is true, it doesn’t explain the differences in the US and UK’s electronics ban; some people find that troubling. Shashank Joshi, an intelligence specialist at London’s Royal United Services Institute, told The Guardian, “One problem is that the British and American restrictions differ, despite the exceptionally high level of intelligence-sharing between the two on AQAP and on counter-terrorism generally. Other western and western-allied countries have not undertaken the ban at all. This raises questions about why they have arrived at different conclusions, and specifically suspicions as to whether unstated political factors may be influencing the Trump administration.”

United Airlines: Don’t wear leggings if you fly for free

It wasn’t a case of people trying to sneak electronic devices larger than a smartphone which caused an airline to refuse to let them board a plane; it was a case of females wearing spandex.

United Airlines refused to allow two teenage girls to board their flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings. The incident quickly went viral and incited outrage after it was live-tweeted by Shannon Watts on Sunday.

United Airlines responded by tweeting, “To our customers…your leggings are welcome!” In other words, if you pay for a ticket, then leggings are OK.

The airline claimed it only honed in on the girls because the teenagers were “pass riders” and “not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel. We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code.”

Some people were not appeased and added angry replies to United’s June 2016 tweet which promoted yoga pants.

United Airlines, presumably hoping to avoid another incident with huge backlash, sent an email to employees reminding them of the dress code for pass riders. According to Business Insider, the email said, “Unacceptable pass travel attire includes beach-type rubber flip flops, slippers, anything with holes or tears, anything that reveals your midriff or undergarments and form-fitting Lycra or spandex pants, such as leggings.”

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