Free Wi-Fi and meditation proposed as airlines adjust to laptop ban – The Sydney Morning Herald

Istanbul: Turkish and Gulf airlines are touting free Wi-Fi and better in-flight connectivity for smartphones as they scramble to mitigate the impact of a ban on laptops on board planes bound for the United States.

The cabin restrictions could deal a blow to fast-growing Gulf airlines, which depend on business-class flyers stopping over in Dubai or Doha for far-flung destinations, and to Turkish Airlines with its high volume of transit passengers.

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The United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s top aviation hubs, has said it was surprised by the ban because UAE security was already tight.

Washington announced the new measure on Tuesday, prohibiting electronic devices larger than smart phones in cabins on flights from 10 airports in countries including the UAE, Qatar and Turkey.

That will hit Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways but not US airlines, none of which fly to those airports.

In the UAE’s first official response to the ban, Sultan bin Saeed al-Mansouri, Minister of Economy and chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said it was surprising because the UAE aviation sector and airports had proven themselves safe.

“The UAE is the number one ranked country worldwide by the International Civil Aviation Organisation regarding the UAE’s compliance with international security and safety standards,” he said.

He also noted differences between the US ban and a similar step by Britain. The British restrictions do not include the UAE or Qatar, but will affect other carriers including Turkish Airlines.

The carriers are bracing themselves for the new measures, which are  set to come into effect on Saturday during the traditionally busy spring break travel period.

​A Turkish Airlines official said it was working on rolling out a system to allow passengers to use 3G data roaming on mobile phones to connect to the internet in-flight, and planned to make Wi-Fi freely available on some aircraft from next month.

“We’ve sped up infrastructure work after the latest developments … If the work is complete, we’re planning on switching to free Wi-Fi services in our Boeing 777 and Airbus 330 aircraft in April,” the official told Reuters.

Emirates said on Thursday it was introducing a “laptop and tablet handling service” for US-bound flights which would allow passengers to use their devices until just before they board.

The devices would be “carefully packed into boxes” and returned on arrival in the United States, it said.

Emirates passengers can access limited free Wi-Fi or pay $US1 for 500 MB.

Fellow Gulf carrier Etihad encouraged passengers to pack their electronics in check-in luggage, but said it would also allow devices to be handed over at boarding, a spokesman said.

Turkish Airlines said it had introduced a similar measure.

Qatar Airways did not respond to questions on how it planned to mitigate the impact of the new security measures, but in a Facebook posting this week it said its in-flight entertainment was “the only entertainment you’ll need on board”.

Royal Jordanian also took a tongue-in-cheek approach, listing on Twitter “12 things to do on a 12-hour flight with no laptop or tablet”, including reading, meditating, saying hello to your neighbour, or “reclaiming territory on your armrest.” 

Emirates used Hollywood actor Jennifer Aniston to ease the blow of the ban.

The restrictions have prompted speculation that the move, enacted by US President Donald Trump’s administration, is to protect US airlines by stifling the growth of the Gulf carriers and Turkish Airlines.

The Gulf airlines have been battling a lobbying campaign in Washington by US carriers that accuse them of receiving unfair subsidies, charges that the Gulf carriers deny.

Reuters

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