The news that the U.S. is placing restrictions on what airline passengers can carry in the cabin on direct flights from eight majority-Muslim nations is creating ripples of concern throughout the arts community.
According to the rules newly issued by President Trump's administration, passengers must check most electronic devices — including laptops, cameras and tablets — into their checked baggage. Travelers will still be allowed to carry their mobile phones in their hand luggage.
Just as international businesspeople and tourists may be concerned about possible thefts, data breaches, lithium battery hazards and other potential forms of damage, musicians are beginning to grapple with the possible effects that these restrictions may have on their live performances. Many artists bring along work gear in the cabin when they tour — and elements of their shows (including electronic music and visual projections) might well be stored on their laptops, tablets and other devices that now will be relegated to the cargo hold, if the artists travel on the affected carriers.
The regulations are directed towards flights coming into the U.S. from eight majority-Muslim countries who are all traditionally allies of the U.S.: Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. According to our colleague Greg Myre who reported on this story for Morning Edition, the new rules affect passengers on about 50 incoming flights per day, on travelers traveling on non-U.S. carriers. As Myre also notes, the eight affected countries include "every major travel hub in the region except Israel's main airport just outside Tel Aviv."
Some of the airports on the list also serve as major transportation hubs to other international destinations, including Dubai (which is now the busiest airport in the world, beating out the likes of London's Heathrow and Hong Kong); Istanbul, an important connection point between Europe and Asia; and Casablanca, a popular hub for travelers coming to and from elsewhere in Africa.
Some prominent American musicians have tour dates in several of these cities in the coming weeks, including pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, who is slated to peform at NYU Abu Dhabi's Arts Center on March 30 and 31 with his trio Tirtha and ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble); the group Pink Martini, who has dates in Casablanca (April 9 at the Jazzablanca festival) and Istanbul (April 15 at the Volkswagen Arena); and hip-hop artists Earl Sweatshirt and Danny Brown, as well as singer Julianna Barwick, who are all slated to perform in Dubai on April 14 as part of the RBMA Weekender Dubai festival.
Iyer says that the Abu Dhabi concerts include quite a bit of the exact kinds of equipment that the new regulations target. The performances are of Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi, a multi-media, film and live-music project which Iyer created with the late filmmaker Prashant Bhargava.
"In Radhe Radhe," Iyer explains, "there are multiple laptops involved — one for video run from front of house, one for audio cues run by me from the stage, and whatever system used to run front-of-house sound — not to mention a lot of instruments and gear all around."
"Many of the ICE musicians read their music on iPads," he continues, "using a foot switch to turn virtual pages. It seems we'd have to check these items only on the way home, but of course then we'd all be worried about loss, damage or theft. I'm guessing we still won't be allowed to lock these cases." Iyer points out that if musicians were traveling on an American carrier or routing through Europe, they wouldn't be having these issues; instead, they're booked on a foreign carrier.
Iyer adds that he, along with other musicians, have spent this morning looking into various solutions for getting gear back home to the U.S.