Renjini Liza Varghese
In the modern era, it's hard for anyone to part with their electronic gadgets even when one is on board a aircraft. The new rule imposed by the US and the UK came in as a shocker to the passengers, but thanks to the operators who turned it around to their stride and made the provisions to make the customers comfortable and happy.
In the last week of March 2017, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a directive asking all passengers travelling on non-stop flights to the US from Dubai to check-in their laptops, tablets, and other personal electronic devices larger than a smart phone. The UK followed suit two days later. Laptops and tabs were not allowed to be carried into the passenger cabins of those flights originating from the Middle East and North Africa. The direct flights originating from the following airports: Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait City, Qatar, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will be the most affected. And the UK has imposed the same restriction on flights originating from six airports namely. It applies to inbound flights from six countries – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey.
What we saw following the ban was initially, most passengers didn’t have any option but to either pack their laptop/tablet in their checked baggage or surrender their devices at the boarding gate. The travellers got adjusted to the new restrictions and barriers. Passengers also started leveraging on the additional services offered by airlines. Emirates, one of the largest operators from the Middle East, was quick in responding to the new rule. They first offered to collect the prescribed devices and laptops near the boarding point in the originating airports and delivering them at the arrival points in the US and the UK rapidly. Emirates operates 18 daily flights to 11 destinations in the US.
Recalling here, last year, the UN aviation agency asked all airlines operators worldwide to block cargo shipments of lithium-ion batteries. If these cells develop a leakage, then the airlines have to fight a different kind of challenge. Reported case of Samsung S7 series products lithium-ion blowing up also made the airlines to ban loading of such battery operated devices into the cargo hold.
Emirates President Sir Tim Clark in an interview post the ban said, “We got our systems and procedures work very well. It is too early to access the effect on the bottom line of the company. There are a cumulative set of issues that are affecting the demand growth, and we are carefully and closely watching them, first the Trump’s travel ban and then laptop ban.”
Now, two weeks later Emirates have gone a step further by providing tablet loan service to US-bound first and business class customers. Emirates premium customers will have a Microsoft Surface tablets equipped with Microsoft Office 2016 available for loan on board. Customers can download their work on to a USB which can be brought on board and plugged into the devices to continuing to work seamlessly.
Turkish Airlines followed the footsteps of Emirates and offered free Wi-Fi on US flights. This service is available to those passengers travelling from Istanbul to passengers in exchange for their tablets or laptops while boarding their flights to the United States.
David Brennan, Assistant Director Cargo Safety & Standards, International Air Transport Association (IATA), was candid by saying, “Unfortunately, aviation security is an area where there appears to be a lack of consultation by the regulatory authorities with industry. Assuming that the risk was from a device carried in the cabin, then clearly prohibiting these from carry-on baggage has achieved the purpose. It was certainly a challenge for the affected airlines to develop new procedures at very short notice. In the longer term, it may distort the market by penalising the airlines that are directly hit by passengers book on airlines/flights that are not impacted by the ban.”
However, going forward, it is feared that the business passengers may change their travel plans to either avoid air travel or avoid the routes that are impacted by the ban. That, in one word, means some of the most successful airlines from the Middle East may end up losing the major pie of their business.