Here’s another way Gulf airlines are trying to get passengers to buy expensive seats in their plush premium cabins: They are offering first- and business-class passengers free loaner laptops and tablets to get around the Trump administration’s ban of in-cabin electronics on US-bound flights.
Dubai-based Emirates Airlines on Wednesday said it would provide its front-cabin passengers Microsoft Surface tablets, complete with Microsoft Office 2016. Qatar Airways last week said it would offer US-bound business-class passengers loaner laptops and complimentary wifi, in response to the ban. Coach passengers will get a free hour of wifi and then $5 for the rest of the flight, albeit on their small smartphone screen.
The ban is certainly a headache for both airlines and business travelers. Towards the end of March, US government abruptly announced that passengers flying to the US from 10 specific airports in the Middle East and North Africa would be required to stow any device larger than a tablet in their checked luggage. The government said it feared such a device could in a terror attack.
That means that business travelers, whose employers shell out thousands of dollars for business class so their employees can work throughout the flight in reasonable comfort, would lose valuable time on the clock.
Airlines don’t want to lose those high-paying customers. Several of the Middle East airlines, including Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, are allowing all passengers to continue using their personal electronics until they are ready to board the plane, when they have to hand them over to be checked in the baggage hold. Business travelers may not love that option, even if it is better than nothing. Emirates and Qatar both suggest business travelers bring their work on a USB drive to use with the loaner laptop, but that raises concerns about securing important work files so a third-party can’t access it.
But business travelers aren’t the only ones fretting about how to make it through these marathon flights without their laptop or tablet. Think of the passengers in coach, reminded yet again of the stark class differences on a plane when their co-passengers in the front cabin are given a loaner device. Perhaps airlines could at least spare a thought for parents in coach trying to keep young ones calm on a flight that’s more than 12 hours.