If you can’t bring your own laptop or tablet into the cabin for a very long flight, would you accept a loaner?
That’s the strategy some carriers are adopting in the wake of the so-called “laptop ban” imposed by the U.S. and U.K. governments on non-stop flights from several airports in the Middle East and Africa. The ban bars passengers from carrying any electronic device larger than a smartphone into the passenger cabin.
First, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad decided to offer loaner iPads and free Wi-Fi starting April 2 for first class and business class passengers on flights to its six U.S. gateways.
Qatar Airways then went a step further, buying up a supply of loaner laptops that will be made available on the aircraft to U.S.-bound business class passengers starting next week. “Customers will be able to download their work on to a USB before stepping on board to pick up where they left off,” the airline said. Qatar is also offering all passengers one hour of free in-flight Wi-Fi on U.S.-bound flights, or a special rate of $5 for a connection for the full duration of the flight.
Emirates’ president said that his carrier is also considering the use of loaner laptops for premium passengers.
Both Qatar and Emirates are letting U.S.-bound passengers keep using their tablets and laptops right up to boarding, so they don’t have to pack them in their checked luggage. Devices will be collected at the gate, flown in the hold, and returned at the destination. Turkish Airlines has also adopted procedures for checking electronic devices at the gate.
The affected airlines are not alone in worrying about the impact that the ban could have on their business. The International Air Transport Association – the leading trade organization for the world’s airlines – called on governments “to urgently find alternatives” to the device ban. The group said the ban seemed misguided and poorly conceived.
“The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate. Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness. And the commercial distortions they create are severe,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.
“With the measures now in place, our passengers and member airlines are asking valid questions. Why don’t the US 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? 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,” said de Juniac.