How my laptop and I handled travel under Trump

(CNN)I was in the United Arab Emirates when the US government announced new restrictions on carrying electronics onto certain flights from the Middle East to the United States.

When news of the ban came out, my friends and colleagues and I tried to decipher the details. One friend’s question revealed a new skepticism about decisions from Washington these days. “Is this a Trump thing?” she asked.
My own doubts about the reason for the measure subsided when I heard that British authorities had imposed similar restrictions. But it was cold comfort to think the order was triggered by legitimate concerns about a terrorist attack against an airplane on which I was a passenger.
    “You have a US passport,” a friend noted, “so you won’t have to check your computer.” That’s incorrect. The nationality of the passenger is not a factor, but the nationality of the airline is. The #ElectronicsBan, as Twitter users promptly labeled it, does not apply to US airlines. It did apply to my flight, on Emirates.
    Royal Jordanian, one of the affected airlines, launched a light-hearted campaign to announce the new rules. It suggested “12 things to do on a 12-hour flight with no laptop or tablet,” including speaking to the person sitting near you and appreciating the miracle of flight. Separately, they tweeted, “Stay tuned for more fun…” and “Every week a new ban” — implicitly connecting the electronics restrictions to the controversial ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, which many people refer to as the “Muslim ban.”
    As my flight finally departed from Dubai on a rare day of weather-related cancellations and delays in the Gulf region, shaking roughly across the turbulent skies, my worry was not about a terrorist bomb. I worried about my laptop.
    From the beginning, I wondered how well the machine and its many tiny components would fare as it was thrown around by baggage handlers, stacked under other heavy suitcases, and subjected to the harsh cold air of the cargo hold. I worried about it being stolen and I wondered if anyone might hack its contents or even plant a bug in it. Hacking is a particular concern for journalists traveling the world.
    I did my best to minimize these risks. I wrapped my laptop and iPad in multiple layers of bubble wrap. I could hardly close it afterward, and heard bubbles pop as I squeezed it closed. Then, at the airport, I used a wrapping service. I’d seen it before, suitcases spun into rolls of clear plastic. I always thought it was meant to keep an overstuffed suitcase from spilling its contents. But it suddenly became obvious that this could be a good theft deterrent as well.
    At the check-in counter, I met business travelers on short trips who told me they had to buy luggage in order to have something to check.
    One traveler on my flight, Chantal Musa, a US citizen who lives in both Chicago and Jordan, told me she was absolutely convinced the rules were not about security but about business, an effort by President Donald Trump to punish Middle Eastern airlines and help US carriers. She pointed to a recent meeting between Trump and airline executives.
    Emirates had set up an operation at the gate, packing the laptops and other electronics for its passengers. John Jundos, an Emirates senior service agent, told me ours was the “first flight on the first day” of the electronics ban. It seemed to go well. A few passengers were distraught after having been told incorrectly that some items, including large headphones, would be allowed. But there were few complaints. After years of cumbersome airport security, passengers were mostly resigned.
    I found not having a laptop on board a good excuse to relax. Boredom, despite the 15-hour flight, was hardly an issue. Most airlines offer an embarrassment of onboard-entertainment riches. Besides, Royal Jordanian is right: Ponder the miracle of flight. I, for one, remain awed by the experience, despite having surpassed a million miles of flight many years ago. I can confirm that Greenland is still a marvel of icy white, and the horizon viewed from above is still as breathtaking as ever.
    But then there’s that reality on the ground.
    Upon arrival in Chicago, a city that was not on my original itinerary, I waited at the carousel for my shrink-wrapped luggage. It arrived looking untouched. Then, after customs, I handed it back to the airline and rushed across the airport to catch my connecting flight. I just barely made it, which is more than I can say for my luggage.
    After a long day of traveling almost 8,000 miles, and more than 24 hours after I left my hotel for the Dubai airport, I reached my final destination. I stood at baggage claim and watched everyone else’s suitcases tumble down from the conveyor belt, imagining a laptop inside bouncing along with the rest of the contents. I waited, and waited. My suitcase never came.
    Exhausted, I filed a missing luggage report. The airline tracked my bag as still in Chicago.

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    The suitcase was finally delivered to my home a day later. The plastic wrap was torn apart, the plastic lock broken. All around it white tape with the logo of the Transportation Security Administration announced in large letters that it had been INSPECTED.
    Someone had gone through the contents of my suitcase. A card placed inside informed me of the fact that the inspection went beyond tearing up the plastic.
    I am now typing this article on that much-traveled laptop. It was not stolen. It was not broken. That much I know.

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