Emirates found a way to ease the pain of the US laptop ban

Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Emirates Airlines is introducing a new service that will allow passengers to use their laptops and tablets until it’s time to board their flights — instead of checking them with their luggage.

The service is a response to the US government’s ban on large electronic devices in the cabin which goes into effect on Saturday. The idea is that Emirates can let travellers use the devices for as long as possible — instead of making them check them hours before a flight.

“Our aim is to ensure compliance with the new rules, while minimising disruption to passenger flow and impact on customer experience,” Emirates President Sir Tim Clark said in a statement. “Our new complimentary service enables passengers, particularly those flying for business, to have the flexibility to use their devices until the last possible moment.”

On Tuesday, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Transportation Safety Administration issued a ban on all electronics larger than a mobile phone from being brought into the cabin of non-stop flights to the US from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s disproportionately problematic for a carrier like Emirates which counts on business travellers for a significant portion of its revenue and to fill the hundreds of seats of its fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbos.

At the same time, industry analysts have criticised the haphazard execution of the ban while safety experts have questioned of its ability to prevent a terrorist attack.

The service offers a partial fix. It also means means passengers flying through Dubai on their way to the US, from India for example, will be able to use the laptop during the first flight and while they’re at the airport instead of having to check it from the start of the trip. It could also be a solution for business travellers whose employers don’t allow them to check laptops out of fear they could be lost or stolen with company information on them.

Passengers will be required to declare their electronic devices to security agents prior to boarding US-bound flights. At which point, banned electronic devices will be packed into secure boxes and stored in the aircraft’s cargo hold. The boxes will be returned to the travellers once they reach the US.

According to Emirates, all carry-on bags will be thoroughly searched by security personnel prior to boarding non-stop flights to the US.

On board the flight, passengers will be able to access the internet on their phones through the airline’s free wi-fi service. According to Clark, 90% of the airline’s passengers surf the web on their smartphones, while only 6% use their laptops.

In the addition, Emirates has been touting the benefits of its award-winning ICE inflight entertainment system and its 2,500 channels of movies, TV shows, live sports, and music.

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