5 things we know about the MENA travel device ban

Early last week, travellers flying from Muslim-majority countries to the U.S. began receiving warnings that all devices larger than a mobile phone would soon need to be packed in checked baggage, meaning no laptops, tablets or cameras (among other devices) could be used beyond check-in desks. The U.K. followed suit on Tuesday, but with a slightly more forgiving policy. Since then, announcements have been uncovered on a daily basis surrounding the ban and the impact that it will have long-term on travellers from this region. Here’s what we know so far:

  1. What does the ban mean for passengers?

Travellers on direct U.S. or U.K.-bound flights from a number of Muslim-majority countries are now barred from bringing electronic devices larger than a mobile phone on-board in carry-on baggage. Medical devices are exempt.

  1. Who is affected?

The U.S. ban covers travellers on direct U.S.-bound flights from airports in Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.

The U.K. ban covers travellers on direct U.K.-bound flights from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey, aboard British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson flights. Eight foreign carriers are also affected.

  1. What has caused this?

According to The Guardian, security sources have implied that both bans have taken effect due to a combination of factors. However, one specific incident suggests that there was a discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad, that appeared to look as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. US administration officials said the new rule had nothing to do with president Donald Trump’s earlier efforts to impose a travel ban on passengers from six Muslim-majority nations.

  1. How have the airlines involved reacted?

Emirates has been particularly proactive in its reaction. The airline initially poked fun at the ban, and released a short commercial video (see below) to promote the carrier’s in-flight entertainment system as being a valid substitute to bringing tablets and laptops on-board. Following this, Emirates announced it would compromise on the ban, and allow travellers to use their larger devices beyond check-in desks and have them collected just before boarding and stored in a separate hold compartment during the flight. Turkish Airlines has also followed this agreement, and now allows travellers to use their devices until the boarding gate.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg TV, Emirates chief Tim Clark said that the carrier was considering offering passengers government-approved laptops to use on-board the aircraft. He said that the airline may need to investigate more “creative” ways to tackle the ban if it remains in place over the long term.

Etihad Airways passengers travelling to the U.S. have to clear US Immigration and Customs at the US Preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi Terminal 3 before they reach the gate – the only one of its kind in the Middle East. The carriers statement said: “Any prohibited electronic devices will have to be declared and placed in padded envelopes at the Preclearance before being securely taken to the aircraft luggage hold by staff.”

UPDATE: (29.03.17) Etihad has announced that starting on 2nd April, it will offer free Wi-Fi and iPads to its first and business class passengers on all US-bound flights from Abu Dhabi.

Royal Jordanian Airlines has adopted a light-hearted reaction, and released a list of ’12 things to do on a 12-hour flight with no laptop or tablet.’ The ban has also stemmed the carrier to create a poet writing competition online, following the airlines initial sarcastic verse that was posted on March 22nd using the hashtag #electronicsban. The winner of the competition will win two free flight tickets to the U.S. – N.B. there are “brownie points” up for grabs for the funniest ones…

  1. Will this be effective long-term?

The ban will continue for the “foreseeable future,” a U.S. government official said last week, adding that it was possible it could be extended to other airports and other countries.

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