With the United States and the United Kingdom now banning laptops and tablets aboard flights from a host of countries and airports, some travellers will be forced to transport these – and other large electronic devices – inside their checked luggage, rather than in a carry-on bag.
But will Australian passengers be caught up in the ban? We've broken down what the new rules mean and how they'll affect you.
The executive summary: there's no impact on Australians flying directly to the USA, although Perth travellers who fly to the US via the Gulf airports of Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways will be caught up.
Passengers on Qantas flights on the Australia-Dubai-London route (QF1/2 and QF9/10) won't be directly impacted – they can still bring their laptops, iPads and Kindles on board – but they should be prepared for longer queues at Dubai Airport's transit area if other US-bound passengers are carrying tech which needs to be removed from their carry-on bag.
What’s covered by the USA’s ban on inflight gadgets?
All electronic devices larger than a smartphone – including tablets, laptops, ebook readers, DVD players and more – cannot be brought into the aircraft passenger cabin on flights bound for the US when departing from 10 specific airports across the Middle East and Africa.
These gadgets can only be transported in checked baggage, not in cabin baggage.
Airports affected include those in Dubai and Abu Dhabi – the hubs of Emirates and Etihad Airways in the United Arab Emirates – along with Hamad International Airport in Doha, home to Qatar Airways.
Joining those is Ataturk Airport in Istanbul (Turkey), Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport (Jordan), Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport (Morocco), Cairo International Airport (Egypt), Kuwait International Airport (Kuwait City, Kuwait), and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul-Aziz and King Khalid International Airports in Jeddah and Riyadh.
What does the UK’s similar inflight electronics ban cover?
The United Kingdom is imposing similar bans to the USA, but only on flights departing from six countries – being Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey – rather than 10 specific airports as with the US.
On flights from these countries, electronic devices larger than 16cm in length, 9.3cm in width and 1.5cm in depth can again only be transported in checked baggage and cannot be brought into the aircraft cabin, covering most laptops, tablets and the like.
But importantly, the UK is not imposing this restriction on flights from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (nor from Kuwait or Morocco), which means passengers flying with Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways – plus Qantas, British Airways and more – are not affected.
Are non-stop flights from Australia to the USA affected?
No. Non-stop flights from Australia to the United States are not covered by these bans, so travellers can continue jetting from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco or Dallas/Fort Worth with their laptops and tablets in carry-on baggage.
The ban also does not apply to any flights departing the United States to any destination, including all domestic and international flights – so if you’re flying with Qantas from Sydney to New York via Los Angeles, or from New York to Sydney via Dallas, you’re all clear to bring your laptop into the cabin.
Are Qantas flights from Australia to London via Dubai affected?
No. Unlike the US, the UK’s ban does not apply to passengers flying from or via Dubai, so passengers aboard Qantas flights QF1 and QF9 are also free to bring large electronic devices with them during all stages of the journey.
How about flights from Australia to the UK with Emirates, Etihad Airways or Qatar Airways?
Because the UK’s ban does not apply to passengers transiting through or beginning their journey in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) or Qatar (Doha), these flights are too unaffected.
That means you’re free to fly Australia-Abu Dhabi-London with Etihad Airways, Australia-Dubai-London with Emirates or Australia-Doha-London with Qatar Airways with all of your gadgets by your side.
Are flights from Australia to the US via Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai affected?
Unfortunately, yes – passengers travelling from Australia to the United States via Abu Dhabi International Airport, Doha’s Hamad International Airport or Dubai International Airport will be impacted as the journey includes a US-bound flight from an affected airport.
That’s a particular annoyance for Perth-based jetsetters who fly to the USA with Emirates, Etihad Airways or Qatar Airways via the Middle East, avoiding a detour via Australia’s east coast and often a second connection to reach their final destination.
What’s more, passengers making a swift transit in between flights from Australia to the USA in Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi must place all of their large electronic devices into their checked bag in Australia.
This is because any checked baggage would be tagged from that passenger’s point of departure in Australia straight through to their destination in the USA, and would not be accessible in transit – preventing travellers from simply moving their gadgets into their checked baggage at the half-way point.
Could I plan a longer transit or a stopover in Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai to avoid this?
Yes! Rather than choosing flights from Australia to the USA with only short connection times in Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai, you could instead plan your journey with a longer transit time on the ground or even an overnight stopover.
With time to access your checked baggage in between, you could instead have your bag tagged only to Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai – rather than from Australia straight to the USA – and could then bring your large electronic devices into the cabin on that first flight from Australia.
Once landing in one of these three cities, you’d then collect your bag, place your large electronic devices inside it and then re-check that bag ahead of your onward US-bound flight, on which the ban would indeed apply.
What about passport control during that extended transit?
Australian passport holders can enter the United Arab Emirates (covering Abu Dhabi and Dubai) without a pre-arranged visa, so grabbing your bag, depositing your gadgets and carting the bag back to the airline’s check-in counters ahead of your onward flight wouldn’t present any immigration issues.
In Qatar (Doha), however, Australians do require a visa to enter the country: but Qatari visas need not be pre-arranged and can be purchased at the border for 100QAR (~A$36). Credit cards are accepted for this charge including Visa, MasterCard and American Express.
Holders of passports other than Australian passports should seek advice from the relevant governments regarding visa requirements or any visa-waiver arrangements that apply to them.
Wherever you’re headed, collecting your bag and checking it back in does require plenty of time on the ground, so edge towards a leisurely transit rather than a rushed one to guard against any flight delays and lengthy queues.
What happens on the journey home from the USA or the UK?
These restrictions only apply to flights bound for the United States of America and the United Kingdom – they do not apply to any flights from the USA or the UK.
Accordingly, your large electronic devices can be taken into the cabin with you when jetting from the USA to Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai, and from the UK to destinations like Istanbul in Turkey: just not on flights in reverse.
Does travel insurance cover electronic devices in checked baggage?
You would need to check with your insurer to determine precisely what your policy covers and any claim limits that may apply, although it’s common for travel insurers to cover electronic devices only when transported by aircraft in carry-on baggage, not in checked baggage.
That restriction may continue to apply even when travellers are forced to place these items inside checked bags, so do check with your insurer or shop around for better coverage if your current policy doesn’t offer the protection you require.
Regardless of your insurance coverage, hard-shell suitcases with fixed-place locks give your device the best chances of arriving in one piece – and arriving, period – being resistant to damage and intrusion.
Soft-sided bags with moveable zips can be easily squashed, compressed or accessed, increasing the potential for damage and theft.
What if I simply must have my laptop in the cabin during the flight?
If your flight falls afoul of the restrictions above, your only option to avoid a ban is to re-route your travel via airports or countries which are not targeted by either ban.
For instance, rather than flying from Perth to New York via Dubai, you could instead fly from Perth to New York via Sydney and Los Angeles (or Dallas/Fort Worth), via Auckland and Los Angeles, or via Singapore and Frankfurt, as these routes are not impacted by US’ ban, so laptops continue to be allowed in the cabin.
Travellers who have already booked tickets on affected flights should contact their airline or travel agent to discuss any desired flight changes or to explore their options.