Travellers in Middle East shrug off measure as ban kicks in

A man stowing away his laptop at Turkey's Ataturk Airport.
A man stowing away his laptop at Turkey's Ataturk Airport.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

DUBAI • A controversial ban on carry-on laptops and tablets on flights from the Middle East to the United States and Britain went into effect yesterday - with less fanfare and frustration than expected.

From Dubai to Doha, passengers on dozens of flights checked in their electronic devices, many shrugging off the measure as yet another inconvenience of global travel.

"It's a rule. I follow the rules," said Mr Rakan Mohammed, a Qatari national who flies from Doha to the US two to three times a year.

At Dubai International Airport, one of the world's busiest hubs, flag carrier Emirates dispatched staff to guide passengers through one of the most intense travel weekends of the year.

Around 1.1 million people are expected to pass through as the city marks spring break in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to Dubai Airports.

An estimated 260,000 travellers are expected each day from last Friday till tomorrow. Dubai International Airport expects 89 million passengers this year.

Staff in red uniform could be seen at the airport yesterday carrying signs explaining the electronics ban, ready to appease travellers with games and activities for children.

Government-owned Emirates, which operates 18 direct flights to the US daily, also began a service to enable passengers to use their electronic devices after check-in and until boarding.

Mr Samuel Porter, who was travelling out of Dubai with his family, nonetheless decided to "avoid delays" at the airport by putting his laptop in the hold.

"The only issue is the kids. I have two kids and the iPad is always in their hands. Maybe they will watch a documentary and learn something useful this time," he told AFP.

The US last week announced a ban on all electronics larger than a standard smartphone on direct flights out of eight countries in the Middle East. US officials would not specify how long the ban will last, but Emirates told AFP that it had been instructed to enforce the measures until at least Oct 14.

The ban covers electronics sold at Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths told local radio last week.

Travellers using 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa are subject to the ban.

Britain has also announced a parallel electronics ban, effective yesterday, targeting all flights out of Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon.

Turkish airports began enforcing the ban yesterday, with national carrier Turkish Airlines offering a similar laptop stowage service to Emirates.

Abu Dhabi, home to UAE national carrier Etihad Airways, is one of the few international airports with a US Customs and Border Protection Facility, which processes immigration and customs inspections before departure.

But those flying to the US from Abu Dhabi will still need to check in their electronics, Etihad said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Travellers in Middle East shrug off measure as ban kicks in'. Print Edition | Subscribe