Airlines affected by the U.S. ban on laptops, tablets and other personal electronic devices in cabins on flights from certain airports and countries are finding ways around the measure. They are offering free WiFi, tablets and laptops aboard U.S.-bound flights as alternatives for passengers.
The new travel rule, which went into effect late last month, requires personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone be placed in checked baggage on U.S.-bound flights departing from 10 major airports in eight Muslim-majority countries. Cellphones and medical devices are not impacted by the U.S. ban.
The measure, which U.S. officials say was prompted by concerns about attempts by terrorists to target commercial flights, was a hit to the airlines serving travelers from the Middle East and North Africa to the U.S. Trade groups say the new requirements could have significant financial impact on the airlines and lead to a decline in international travel.
“The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations last week.
“Even in the short-term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness. And the commercial distortions they create are severe,” de Juniac said. “We call on governments to work with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their personal electronics.”
As an interim step, some airlines are making investments in keeping passengers comfortable — from buying laptops and iPads to offering free wifi to passengers on long-haul flights to the U.S.
Etihad Airways, which is based in Abu Dhabi and operates 45 flights a week to six U.S. cities including Washington, said it will begin offering first- and business-class passengers free Wi-Fi starting this week. The airline will have iPads available on all U.S.-bound flights for passengers who need them, an airline spokesman said.
Qatar Airways said that starting this week it will offer complimentary laptops to business-class travelers and WiFi to all passengers on all flights to the United States.
“We truly appreciate the importance of being able to work on board our aircraft,” Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in a statement. “By providing this laptop loan service, we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the U.S. can continue to work whilst on-board.”
Turkish Airlines said it is offerings free WiFi to passengers on trips to the U.S. and England, which implemented a similar electronics ban the same day the U.S. announced its ban.
Qatar and Turkish airlines are allowing customers to use their laptops, tablets and other electronic devices until they board their flights, at which point airline staff collect the items and securely package them.
But some groups, including the International Air Transport Association, are urging the the governments to find alternatives to the carry-on restrictions.
“With the measures now in place, our passengers and member airlines are asking valid questions. Why don’t the U.S. and the UK have a common list of airports? How can laptops be secure in the cabin on some flights and not others, including flights departing from the same airport? And surely there must be a way to screen electronic equipment effectively?” de Juniac said. “The current situation is not acceptable and will not maintain the all-important confidence of the industry or of travelers. We must find a better way. And governments must act quickly.”
U.S. officials say the directive runs until Oct. 14, and could be extended for another year.
The ban applies to nine airlines flying from Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Jordan, Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Egypt, Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) in Turkey, King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) and King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait International Airport (KWI) in Kuwait, Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) in Morocco, Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar, and Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in the United Arab Emirates.