Airlines are doing what they can to deal with the damage caused by the laptop ban. In case you weren’t aware, the US and UK have banned electronics larger than cell phones on flights originating from different countries, mostly in the Middle East region. While the UK excepted the big three Middle Eastern Carriers (Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar), the US included those in the ban.
These three airlines are important connecting hubs for business travelers making their way to and from places like Asia and Australia, so this policy was a significant blow to Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar, all three of which offer supreme business class products meant to cater to these high revenue passengers.
So to combat this potential blow to their business, those airlines are trying out different strategies.
Taking special care of electronics
The first step taken by many of these airlines was implementing special policies to safeguard electronics so that they stand less of chance of being damaged or stolen when stowed away.
For example, Emirates is allowing passengers to take their laptops past security so they can continue to use them until it’s finally time to depart. It’s reported that they’ll also offer special packaging to minimize potential damage to the electronics. Turkish Airlines is also offering this service and I suspect other airlines will, too.
This will definitely help passing down time in lounges before flights, but I’d still be concerned about my precious MacBook getting damaged or stolen during the storing process. If there were explicit guarantees on how my laptop would be stored and then retrieved upon arriving then I might feel a little better (it looks like there might be). But I still don’t think this will be good enough for many companies to allow their business travelers to fly on such an airline. They simply won’t want to risk losing or exposing sensitive data.
And I also wonder about the security implications here. Will there be sufficient screening techniques at the gate that are on the same level as the main security area or the scans utilized for checked baggage? Are they going to have time to do a sufficient screening with limited time at boarding? If there was a concern of terrorists infiltrating airlines’ staff, doesn’t this increase vulnerability?
Etihad began offering loaner iPads along with vouchers for free onboard Wi-Fi to its business class and first class passengers. It’s still mind-blowing to me why Abu Dhabi International Airport is subject to this restriction given it’s one of the U.S. Customs Pre-Clearance destinations, but I guess it “is what it is” at this point.
I’m not sure how enticing the free wifi and iPad rental is. The entertainment on Etihad’s business class product is already solid so how much more can an iPad offer? It’s not like you’d be able to sync it your iTunes account (even if you wanted to).
I guess it’s okay for allowing you the possibility to browse the internet but wouldn’t a laptop be much more suited for that purpose?
Apparently some carriers think so.
Qatar announced that it would be issuing out loaner laptops to business and first class passengers that could be collected after boarding.
Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said;
“As an award-winning and global airline we truly appreciate the importance of being able to work on board our aircraft and that is why I have insisted on offering only the best possible solution for our customers. By providing this laptop loan service we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the US can continue to work whilst on-board. This unique ability to offer ‘business as usual’, above and beyond the competition, is yet another example of Qatar Airways justification for being the ‘World’s Best Business Class’.”
This is definitely a step in the right direction, but I immediately was concerned with the security implications here. What corporations are going to feel okay with allowing executives and other employees to access sensitive data on a foreign device? With the risk of getting data stolen, hacked, or a virus implanted, I don’t see a lot of organizations going for this option.
I’d imagine that emails, reports, and other sensitive materials are primarily what business travelers are working on during these long flights. Most of which often contain confidential and or proprietary business data. Thus, I’m not sure how useful or practical this accommodation will be to true business travelers.
The ability to access web browsing on a lap top is a huge plus, however. And I’d take that over browser access on a iPad any day. However, there are still limitations there. For example, if you’re primarily working out of any kind of software on your computer then internet access alone doesn’t do you much good in terms of business productivity.
It’s great to see airlines doing what they can to help business travelers, but I really think their hands are tied in these situations. There’s just too much risk involved for both companies and individuals when storing laptops outside of the cabin or even using laptops given to them on board. For those reasons, I think these options have limited practicality in terms of its utility for business travelers, although they will help increase the comfort for many passengers.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.