Emirates Wins Laptop-Ban Exemption, Leaving Qatar Isolated

Updated on
  • Dubai carrier says curbs lifted as security measures approved
  • Turkish Air also gets all-clear on U.S. services from Istanbul

U.S. Lifts Devices Ban on Planes From Abu Dhabi

Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, said measures barring laptops from the cabins of aircraft departing its Dubai base for the U.S. have been lifted, leaving Qatar Airways as the only major carrier still affected by the ban.

The moratorium, imposed in March, was removed Wednesday following work with local authorities and regulators on implementing the “heightened security measures and protocols” required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Emirates said in a statement.

Dubai becomes the third major airport to normalize access to personal devices on U.S.-bound flights. Istanbul, home to Turkish Airlines, also declared itself free of the ban Wednesday after saying Monday that that the restrictions would be dropped, while Etihad Airways hub Abu Dhabi secured exemption last Sunday, aided by the presence of a U.S. “pre-clearance” border post there.

The moves leave Qatar Airways’s Doha base isolated as the only significant global interchange still affected by the American curbs. A team from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is assessing implementation of required measures, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said at a Chatham House event in London. Qatar Air is also under siege from travel and airspace bans opposed by neighboring Arab states over its government owner’s links to Iran.

Turkish Airlines expects a laptops ban on flights to the U.K. to be lifted soon, Chief Executive Officer Bilal Eksi said via Twitter. Britain has imposed its own curbs on access to devices for flights from airports in six Arab nations. That includes Istanbul but not the major Persian Gulf hubs listed by the U.S.

Demand Dip

Escaping the laptop ban is seen as vital for Mideast operators after the measures led some customers to switch to airlines where they could still use equipment also including tablet computers and games consoles. Emirates cut back operations to the U.S., where it serves 12 cities, in response to a dip in demand from the restrictions and temporary limitations on entry visas.

Other airports among the 10 affected by the U.S. ban are also moving toward a resolution, with Saudi Arabia Airlines saying Tuesday that it effects to be free of the curbs by July 19. Amman-based Royal Jordanian said it has also asked the TSA to approve its response to the new guidelines requiring stricter security scans and checks.

That leaves airports in Kuwait, Morocco and Egypt -- as well as Qatar Air’s Doha hub -- still struggling to throw off the restrictions. Smaller airports are likely to find it tougher to comply with the heightened security steps required by the U.S., since they lack both funds and access to the latest equipment. The U.K. list includes Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey, together with Tunisia and Lebanon. Morocco, like the Gulf hubs, is excluded.

While the removal of the electronics ban strips away one travel hurdle for carriers, the revival of U.S. restrictions on visas for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries could still mean fewer passengers on some flights. Demand in the Persian Gulf has also weakened as the low price of crude holds back oil-based economies.

(Adds Qatari foreign minister’s comments in fourth paragraph.)
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