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The US Government has banned passengers from carrying devices such as laptops, tablets and ebook readers on direct flights bound for the United States from a host of Middle Eastern and African countries.
Impacting flights to the US departing from 10 specific airports, Australian travellers jetting to the States with Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways will be affected by the new security rules which require they pack any device other than a smartphone into their checked luggage.
Other devices banned from carry-on also include cameras, DVD players, travel printers/scanners and electronic games "larger than a smartphone", although exceptions will be made for medical devices such as CPAP sleep machines.
The US Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that Abu Dhabi and Dubai International Airports are among the 10 targeted by the ban – being the hubs of Etihad Airways and Emirates – as is Doha's Hamad International Airport, home to Qatar Airways.
Also on the list: Istanbul's Ataturk Airport – hub of Star Alliance member Turkish Airlines – along with the international airports in Cairo, Kuwait City and Casablanca (Mohammed V Airport).
Qantas partner Royal Jordanian's base of Amman (Queen Alia International Airport) is too on the list, plus Jeddah's King Abdul-Aziz International Airport and Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia, both affecting passengers travelling with SkyTeam alliance member Saudia.
"Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items," reads a statement distributed to media by the US Department of Homeland Security.
"Based on this information... it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States," the statement continues.
Etihad, Emirates confirm cabin tech ban from March 25; Qatar Airways confirms March 21
A spokesperson for Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways told Australian Business Traveller that "following a directive from U.S. authorities affecting selected airports, Etihad Airways has been advised that guests travelling to the United States from Abu Dhabi International Airport are not permitted to carry electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone in the cabin."
"Mobile phones and medical devices are permitted but larger items such as laptops, tablets, cameras and e-readers will need to be placed into checked-in baggage. For those guests bound for the U.S., this must be done at the point of origin which may not necessarily be at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The new rules come into effect for those US-bound flights departing Abu Dhabi on 25th March."
This is despite the presence of a US-approved 'pre-clearance' channel at Abu Dhabi, which sees TSA officers clear travellers for arrival into the US as domestic passengers.
Dubai-centred Emirates provided a similar statement, adding that "The directive ... is valid until October 14, 2017. It is applicable to all US-bound passengers from Dubai International Airport, whether originating or transiting through."
Qatar Airways passengers departing Doha will instead find the new rules applicable from "March 21, in accordance with new United States government regulations," a spokesperson for the airline advised Australian Business Traveller.
Given travellers received no prior notice of these changes and may already be en route to Doha with connections planned to the US, "Qatar Airways has made special arrangements to assist passengers in securing their devices in the aircraft's baggage hold".
Connecting flights from Perth
Non-stop flights from Australian cities to the United States – including from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth and Honolulu – will not be affected, nor will flights from New Zealand, Fiji, Asia, Europe or Central and South America to the USA.
However, consider the case example of travellers from Perth who fly to the USA via Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai – a popular alternative compared to flying east to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane for a connecting Qantas or Virgin Australia service to the US, followed by a second connection if bound for the US east coast.
Those Perth passengers will not be able to bring their laptop, tablet, digital camera etc. even onto the first leg of their trip from Perth to their chosen Gulf hub – because they won't have access to their checked luggage once it's handed over to the airline at Perth, not to be seen again until their arrival into the USA.
That's unless they're able to have their bag checked-through only to Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Doha, having planned a longer layover in the Middle East with sufficient time to clear immigration and collect and re-check their baggage.
This could allow Perth-based flyers to make full use of large electronic devices on the first flight of their journey, before stowing those gadgets in their checked baggage ahead of an onward US-bound flight.
Along with significantly reducing the inflight productivity of business travellers – or their productivity while on the ground in transit – some high flyers may also discover that their travel insurance doesn’t cover valuables such as laptops and digital cameras for loss, theft or damage when transported in airline checked baggage.
Updated March 22, 2017 with comments from the US DHS, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.