When the US banned laptops in flights from several Muslim countries, airlines started worrying about losing business. Now, they have come up with solutions - at least for those in expensive seats.
Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways are lending some passengers laptop computers and tablets to use on board following the US ban on most electronics devices from being taken into the cabin on United States-bound flights.
On March 25, US authorities banned electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from being taken into cabins on direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar Airways said on Thursday complimentary laptops would be available to business class passengers traveling to the United States from next week.
Business-class passengers would collect the laptops just prior to boarding, where they would also be able to hand over their own devices to be stowed in the hold with checked-in luggage, the Doha-based airline said in a statement.
Business as usual
"By providing this laptop loan service we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the US can continue to work whilst on board," said the airline's boss, Akbar Al-Baker.
A similar laptop proposal is being considered by fellow Gulf carrier, Emirates, which is also affected by the US ban. The airline was the first of the major Gulf airlines to say its passengers could hand over devices immediately prior to boarding.
Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways meanwhile said it would offer free wi-fi and tablet computers to first- and business-class passengers on US-bound flights.
The restrictions, prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices in electronic gadgets, state that electronics larger than a mobile phone - including laptops and tablets - must be stowed with checked baggage on US-bound passenger flights.
Effects on demand
Industry experts have warned the ban could weaken passenger demand for the Gulf carriers on US routes.
Gulf airlines rely on business-class flyers stopping over in places like Dubai or Doha for far-flung destinations and the ban risks pushing passengers to travel with airlines not affected.
Qatar CEO Al-Baker said on Monday it was too early to tell if there had been an impact on demand.
Emirates said booking rates on US flights fell 35 percent after President Donald Trump's first travel ban which, like the electronics ban, only applied to Muslim-majority countries.
A similar ban was also imposed by Britain, but this exempted some of the Gulf airlines, including Qatar.
bea/hg (Reuters, AFP)