Qatar Air, Etihad to loan devices in answer to US ban

Qatar Airways will distribute loaner laptops to business-class travellers on US-bound flights, after the US federal government banned passengers from bringing their own devices into aircraft cabins.
Qatar Airways will distribute loaner laptops to business-class travellers on US-bound flights, after the US federal government banned passengers from bringing their own devices into aircraft cabins.PHOTO: AFP

DOHA (BLOOMBERG) - Qatar Airways will distribute loaner laptops to premium customers on US-bound flights, joining Gulf rival Etihad Airways in providing a workaround after the federal government banned passengers from bringing their own devices into aircraft cabins.

The specially purchased computers will be available to business-class travelers from next week, Qatar Air said on Thursday (March 30). People must hand over their own laptops at the gate for storage in the hold. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad said earlier on its website that it will hand out Apple iPads to its premium guests.

The US ban, which came into effect on March 25, applies to flights from eight countries in the Middle East and Africa. The move raised concerns that business travelers particularly dependent on their personal devices might avoid the four major hub airports affected by the curbs and switch to competing routes.

"We truly appreciate the importance of being able to work on board our aircraft," chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said in a statement. "By providing this laptop-loan service we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the US can continue to work."

Mr Tim Clark, president of Dubai-based Emirates, the world's biggest long-haul airline, said on Tuesday that "creative" ways of working around the ban were being considered, including the distribution of approved loaner computers.

Passengers with Emirates can use their own devices up until boarding, whereas Qatar Air has previously required them to be relinquished at the security barrier and Etihad has urged people to pack them into checked luggage before leaving their point of origin if transiting Abu Dhabi for the US.

In addition to the loaner option, Qatar will offer all its US-bound passengers one hour of complimentary Wi-Fi. Access for the duration of the flight will cost US$5 (S$6.9). Etihad will meanwhile hand premium clients vouchers providing free connectivity throughout, with the service commencing on April 2, it said.