Aspen Untucked: No large electronic devices allowed
On March 21, the United State government notified airlines flying from 10 airports in predominantly Muslim countries that they had three days to install a new regulation. They had to prevent passengers from putting laptops, tablets and cameras in their carry-ons for any flights going to the U.S. This was said to be instated for national security reasons. The airlines complied with the new rule, which was quickly labeled the “laptop ban.”
I had to admit, at the time, the lightness of my bag, sans laptop, was heavenly. Sure, I was nearly hysterical with anxiety at the idea of my MacBook Pro being stolen, cracked or otherwise bastardized whilst out of my care. But my shoulders were grateful for the break, as my cousin and I breezed through security at Marrakesh Menara Airport. We were headed for Casablanca, where we would take a direct to JFK International Airport. That flight is what made us victims of our country’s brand, spanking new laptop ban.
At first, the ban didn’t seem heavily enforced. We checked in with Royal Air Maroc in Marrakesh. The desk attendant pointed at a busy sheet of paper with a barely coherent illustration of a laptop and tablet device on it. Her English wasn’t great, and our Arabic was even worse, but she said “laptop” and pointed at the piece of paper, then to our checked luggage. Thankfully, we already knew about the ban and had packed accordingly; otherwise I’m not sure this interaction would have meant anything to us. We nodded vigorously in response to her direction, showing that we had followed the rules.
With that, we went through security and walked to the gate, assuming the worst was over. But Marrakesh Menara Airport was not on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s list of airports that had to instate the ban; Casablanca was.
We thought we had a long time before boarding once we reached Casablanca, but when we got to our gate there was already a long line. We entered and were immediately greeted by several agents, checking the flight lists to make sure our names were there. They separated my cousin and I, placing her in one line and me in another. I glanced around, taking in the mess of the scene before me. The numerous lines we were separated into all led to the same place: a long, ominous metal table with security officers behind it, busily searching each and every passenger’s bag. The security guards and airline attendants had created a junkyard of belongings on the floor in front of these tables. Items not sufficient for carry-on had to placed into small, flimsy bags to be checked to New York. Passengers angrily parted with expensive SLRs, fancy iPads and even old school Polaroid cameras.
Several passengers around me seemed to have no idea that there was a laptop ban in place. There were five attendants floating through the search area just to help explain to perturbed customers why it was that they had to surrender one of their most expensive items to the cabin underneath them for a long flight. Hysterics became commonplace as more and more devices were found. It was as if no one understood the helpful illustrations provided at the check-in desks, pre-security.
An anxious feeling consumed me as I waited in line to be searched. I had understood that this ban was made, at least in part, for our security, and I had followed all of the rules. It’s not like I had anything to hide, but being treated like I might made me think I was surely guilty of something. I started wondering if my sunblock or earrings could be considered a threat. My nail file certainly could damage someone’s skin if given a little time. Hell, I had a few books that weren’t particularly noble texts. Maybe I would be judged, profiled even. Would they want to scan my social media accounts? Perhaps know whom I voted for? Anything seemed possible within these new regulations.
After 45 minutes of outlandish anxieties rushing through my head, I reached the front of the line. I was met by a large Moroccan officer with enough badges on his shirt to join an Boy Scouts troop. He looked at me, amused, like he couldn’t believe this is what his job had come to in recent weeks. He searched both my carry-on bags, flipping through pages in my books and inspecting small compartments inside my purse. Luckily, I passed his test with flying colors. The only thing he was not thrilled about was my water bottle. He confiscated it and sent me on, obviously not caring in the least about what my Twitter account had to say or how coarse my nail file was.
The final step was the frisking. I entered a small, pop-up room where a female security guard patted me down thoroughly, most likely to make sure I wasn’t hiding an iPad underneath my bra or a Macbook in my pants. I suppose anything was possible. When she was satisfied, I was released to the gate. There was nothing left between me and my country, except for a technology-free, cross-Atlantic, seven-hour trip. The story ends happily, with my laptop, and my cousin, eventually being returned to me unscathed. We had survived the infamous laptop ban and will await the next travel obstacle sure to come.
For those who may have travel plans in the Middle East with a direct flight back to America, I urge you to check to see if the laptop ban will affect you. If it does, prepare for long lines, disgruntled fellow passengers and a profoundly personal frisking. Safe travels!
Barbara Platts had a wonderful time in Morocco and will share more about her adventures in next week’s column. Reach her at email@example.com.