It’s been three weeks since the United States and the United Kingdom announced similar yet divergent electronics bans for flights originating in several Middle Eastern and North African countries. In those weeks, airlines, agencies, and nations alike have reacted to the new restrictions:
Airlines Instate Offerings to Work Around Electronics Limitations
On March 30, Qatar Airways announced a solution to business travelers’ on-flight productivity concerns: beginning the first week of April, the Doha-based airline launched a laptop loan service. The offering provides Business Class passengers on direct flights to the U.S with complimentary laptops. In order to utilize the loan, Business Class passengers simply need to download their work from company-issued devices onto USB’s prior to boarding. Once settled, the flight crew distributes devices that are then collected before passengers disembark.
In addition to the laptop loan service, Qatar Airways has extended special Wi-Fi services to all passengers: one hour of free Wi-Fi, with the option to purchase access for the entire duration of the flight for five dollars.
Abu-Dhabi-based airline Etihad and Dubai-based airline Emirates both offered similar device-replacement services. Beginning on April 2nd, Etihad extended complimentary iPads and free Wi-Fi to its First and Business Class travelers. Emirates began offering loaner Microsoft Surface tablets, equipped with Microsoft Office 2016. Similar to Qatar passengers, individuals utilizing each airline’s tablet service should download their projects onto USB’s in order to continue working mid-flight.
All three airlines have also instated policies allowing all passengers to use personal and corporate devices up until the last minute. Each airline has extended a complimentary electronics handling and packing service at the gate, enabling all travelers to keep their devices until they are required to board. Devices are then securely packed and tagged, to be returned to their rightful owners once the plane lands in the U.S.
Australia Increases Security Procedures without Banning Electronics
On April 4th, Australia announced that it would be upping screening measures for flights originating from Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as well as from Doha in Qatar. Airlines impacted by the new security measures include Qatar Airways, Qantas Airways, Emirates, and Etihad.
The measure went into effect on Thursday, April 6th. Passengers and their luggage are subject to random explosive detection screening at the boarding gates of impacted flights. Targeted electronics screening may also be conducted at this time. However, passengers will be able to retain possession of their devices in the cabin and will not be forced to pack devices in checked luggage.
Australia’s Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, assured passengers that there was, “no specific threat to Australia,” but that the changes were being implemented as a precaution. The announcement and security enhancements came just two weeks after the U.S and U.K. electronics bans.
EASA Issues Fire Safety Warning regarding Electronics in Airplane Cargo
On April 5th, the European Aviation Safety Agency released a bulletin warning of the increased fire risk resulting from storing personal electronic devices (PEDs) in aircraft cargo holds.
While the bulletin does not directly refer to the U.S and U.K electronics bans, the EASA discusses the danger lithium batteries pose and makes a clear stance on the preferred location of PEDs on aircrafts:
Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) containing lithium batteries carried by passengers should preferably be carried in the passenger cabin, on the person or in the carry-on baggage. This would enable crew to react expeditiously in case an incident involving such PED occurs. When the carriage of PEDs in the cabin is prohibited, this will lead to significant increase in the number of PEDs carried in the cargo compartment… This should be taken into account as part of the operator’s safety risk assessment process, and appropriate precautions should be applied to mitigate the associated risks, such as fire in the cargo hold.
The EASA release reflects long-standing industry wisdom regarding safe storage of lithium-powered devices, though the International Air Transport Association’s guidelines do allow such devices to be stored in the cargo under certain conditions.
To mitigate risk on flights where devices are required to be stored in the cargo, passengers are advised to fully power down electronics and to provide ample padding to prevent accidental reboots.
As both the U.S. and U.K. bans are currently indefinite, we will continue monitoring the situation to bring you updates.