Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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My Laptop or My Life. I'm Thinking! I'm Thinking!
May 17, 2017 -- This vacation is beginning to feel a lot like work. And it hasn't even started yet.

My wife and I are preparing to leave on a two-week trip to Italy, a surprise 60th birthday gift from her to me and all of a sudden there are a number of very unpleasant issues we need to address.

I spent the better part of Tuesday trying to get up to speed on the government's plan to extend the Middle East laptop ban to European nations. And nothing I did makes either of us feel safer. Or the least bit comfortable about leaving our home and leaving on a jet plane.

I write for a living. It isn't just a profession. I need to do at least a little peck typing every day. If I'm away from home for more than a night, my MacBook Air travels with me. Besides, a lot of my life is stored on this thing, so you could argue that it actually belongs by my side at all times.

In other words, there is no way in Hell that I would willingly leave my laptop at home in Maine while I am traveling on another continent for 15 days.

Trouble is, there's nothing simple about this laptop ban--or about making a decision as to whether I take the MacBook with me. There are consequences no matter what I do. Potentially catastrophic consequences.

Let's get the not-in-the-least catastrophic consequence out of the way first: Carrying the laptop with me to Europe is going to cost me money all of a sudden. If the ban is imposed while I'm in Italy, the proper--and safest--way to return the device to the United States is to ship it home.

I could procure the appropriate shipping boxes and drop off the laptop at a FedEx or DHL office in Italy. Or, as a Joe Sent Me member, I can use Luggage Forward's laptop shipping service to deliver my computer home. Between buying the boxes and then paying for the shipping and delivery, I'm looking at adding around $150 to the cost of the trip.

An unpleasant and unwelcome added expense, to be sure. But, on a trip of this length, not a deal-breaker.

Which brings us to the much less safe method of getting the laptop back home: stuffing it inside my checked baggage and letting the airline do the job.

That's surely what a lot of my fellow passengers will do. The ban is about preventing terrorists from being able to detonate an explosives-equipped laptop or tablet inside an aircraft's cabin while in-flight. That means you can't board a flight with a computer, but it's okay to pack it in your luggage that travels in the cargo hold.

This is supposed to be safe because, without a human to detonate it, a laptop bomb is rendered inoperative, at least during the duration of the flight.

That's supposed to make me feel better about setting out on this trip. Except it doesn't.

Why? Because laptops, tablets and E-readers aren't supposed to be in the cargo hold in the first place. The lithium batteries that power these devices have been known to ignite and cause fires. If this happens inside the cabin the fire can be put out by any number of people. Who's going to put it out in the cargo hold?

Don't just take my word for it.

Pilots in the United Kingdom came out strongly against a transatlantic laptop ban, citing the risk of a "catastrophic fire" when these devices are allowed into the cargo hold. The European Aviation Safety Agency is on record saying that laptops "should preferably be carried in the passenger cabin, on the person or in the carry-on baggage." Pilots at United, my most hated airline, this week joined the no-laptops-as-cargo chorus.

And just last year the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization banned lithium batteries from the cargo hold of passenger aircraft because they have been implicated in actual fires aboard actual airplanes. These fires occurred in cargo airplanes where crewmembers died. Imagine this happening with hundreds of passengers aboard.

So shipping my laptop home from Italy won't necessarily make the flight any safer. Not if I'm the only one who ships my laptop, it doesn't.

I'm imagining being cooped up in a cabin for six or seven hours and wondering which of my fellow passengers' Kindles just short-circuited in the cargo hold.

I must admit that this upcoming birthday celebration is beginning to feel like something I might want to skip.

At least until the knuckleheads in charge of airline safety start making better decisions.


This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.