Electronics Ban: Gulf Airlines Offer Free Laptops, Tablets on US Flights


Emirates, Qatar and Etihad are devising ways to mitigate the impact of last month’s electronics ban placed by the US and the UK on flights from designated airports, writes Demola Ojo

Last month, the United States and the United Kingdom banned flights from some airports from allowing passengers to take devices larger than a phone into the cabin of the plane. Passengers have been instructed to check-in these devices which included laptops, tablets, cameras, pocket scanners and projectors among others. In the case of the US, the ban included flights from Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai which incidentally, is the world’s busiest airport. 

According to both countries, the ban is due to terrorism threats and there is no time limit on the rules, which means they will stay in place indefinitely, though a spokeswoman for Emirates told Reuters that the directive is valid until October 14.

The ban specifies the “last point of departure airports” which means if you change planes at one of the affected airports for the last leg of your trip, the rules still apply. So, for example, going from Dubai to New York – a 14-hour flight – will leave you without a laptop or other device, no matter where you started your journey from. If you started in Lagos, that’s another eight hours plus layover time, to be without your devices. 

This is a scenario that is bound to worry a great number of Nigerian travellers with many preferring to fly with these Middle-eastern airlines because of competitive pricing and great service.   

The ban is certain to affect business for these airlines, especially business class seats with many business travellers circumventing the region in order to keep their electronics handy, especially on long flights that could otherwise be productive ones. Gulf airlines rely on business-class flyers stopping over in places like Dubai or Doha for far-flung destinations and the ban risks pushing passengers to travel with airlines not affected.

However, in a move that highlights the business savvy of the Gulf airlines they have come up with solutions especially targeted at their business class passengers.  

Qatar Airways was first to announce the unique solution by offering passengers a laptop loan service that takes their award-winning five-star reputation to new heights. Showing true commitment to travellers affected by the ban, the Doha-based airline purchased laptops available for loan on all of their US flights; meaning uninterrupted productivity and service throughout their journey.

The complimentary laptops are available to Business Class passengers traveling on all US-bound flights (started last week) and can be collected after boarding. Customers will be able to download their work on to a USB before stepping on board to pick up where they left-off. 

Qatar is also offering a special service at the gate for all passengers, whereby any electronic items prohibited by the new ban will be collected and securely packaged. These will be tagged, loaded as check-in baggage and returned safely to the customer on arrival to the US.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker, said; “As an award-winning and global airline we truly appreciate the importance of being able to work on board our aircraft and that is why I have insisted on offering only the best possible solution for our customers. 

“By providing this laptop loan service, we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the US can continue to work whilst on-board. This unique ability to offer ‘business as usual’, above and beyond the competition, is yet another example of Qatar Airways justification for being the World’s Best Business Class.”

In another move to guarantee the comfort and productivity of all passengers on board US-bound flights Qatar Airways is providing one hour of free Wi-Fi for all passengers and a special Wi-Fi package of US$5 to stay connected for the duration of the whole flight.

Similarly, Etihad is lending tablets and offering unlimited Wi-Fi to business and first-class passengers traveling on US-bound flights. The Abu Dhabi-based airline previously said passengers could hand over prohibited devices at the gate in order to minimize the disruption.

Business and first class passengers can now ask for a Microsoft Surface tablet, loaded with Microsoft Office 2016, enabling them to access and work on documents via USB sticks during their flight.

Emirates have decided to follow suit. The airline had previously introduced a laptop handling service last month, allowing US-bound passengers transiting in Dubai to use their devices on the first part of their journey, and at Dubai International, before handing them over at the gate to be packed into boxes and placed in the hold.

Now business and first class passengers can now ask for a Microsoft Surface tablet, loaded with Microsoft Office 2016, enabling them to access and work on documents via USB sticks during their flight.

Emirates revealed that nearly 8,000 passengers have used its laptop handling service since it was launched, and says that “an even mix of economy, business and first class passengers” are utilizing the service. The airline said booking rates on US flights fell 35 per cent after President Donald Trump’s first travel ban which like the electronics ban only applied to Muslim-majority countries.