In March of 2017, US president Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring that all devices larger than smartphones be checked into the cargo holds of inbound passenger flights coming from seven Muslim-majority countries. Though intended to be a safety measure to prevent terrorists from setting off bombs in tablets and computers, this ban also removes the luxury of allowing passengers to work on and be entertained by their computers. These decisions come after the US created multiple controversial travel bans from these countries, which prevented non-US citizens or permanent residents from entering the country. Those orders have since been reversed.
Now, Qatar Airways thinks they have come up with the solution to the tech ban. On March 31st, less than two weeks after the ban came into effect, the Middle Eastern airline announced that it is providing all business and premium passengers with complimentary computers for the duration of their flight, along with limited free WiFi (unlimited WiFi can be purchased for $5). The airline says that it will allow passengers to transfer documents from their personal computers onto a USB device, which can then be connected to an in-flight computer for editing. The passengers’ devices are secured in the cargo hold of jets and returned at the end of the flight in exchange for the in-flight devices.
“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,” said His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, who is the Chief Executive of Qatar Airways Group. “ 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’.”
Qatar has joined other airlines in providing their passengers with tech for their flight. Etihad Air, for example, started giving its US-bound first- and business class passengers iPads and free WiFi on April 2nd. Other airlines, such as Emirates, are also trying to find a way around the ban. Emirates’ President, Sir Tim Clark, said that the airline is “working on a solution to make it possible for passengers…to keep their ‘cabin banned’ electronic devices with them until the last minute.” Emirates is considering a laptop program similar to that implemented by Qatar.
The UK also has a ban similar to that of the United States. However, it isn’t as strict. Qatar, for example, isn’t affected by the UK electronics ban, along with other Gulf airlines.
Despite these newfound loopholes, however, Alexandre de Juniac, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is critical of the ban. He thinks that laws are “not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate”. De Juniac also called for a more coordinated approach, saying that “there must be a way to screen electronic equipment effectively.” However, it seems doubtful that these electronic bans will be lifted anytime soon.