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Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

The recent ban on most electronic items onboard planes going from Doha to the US is simply a “security measure,” the CEO of Qatar Airways has said.

According to Reuters, Akbar Al Baker said this week that he did not feel the policy singled out GCC carriers.

“I don’t think it is fair for me to say it is targeting Gulf airlines,” he told reporters at a Qatar investment forum in London.

Colin Harris/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Since Saturday, electronic items larger than cell phones have not been permitted inside the cabin of aircraft flying to the US from 10 Middle Eastern cities, including Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Instead, passengers must check their laptops, iPads and e-readers, among other devices. Nine airlines are affected by the ban, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad.

No US carriers were on the list.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Al Baker added that it was “too early” to say whether the policy would affect his airline’s profits.

However, Emirates’ CEO has been more vocal about the ban, calling it “disruptive and operationally challenging.”

Industry analysts have also suggested that business class passengers in particular may choose to book with carriers unaffected by the ban.

Questions about ban

American officials said that the new policy is temporary, and in response to concerns about terrorist attacks.

The UK has also implemented similar new rules, but excluded Doha and Dubai from its list of restricted routes.

Andrew Cupitt / Flickr

British Airways A320, for illustrative purposes only.

This has prompted questions about whether the US regulations are partly designed to put pressure on the big three Gulf airlines.

For years, they have been the target of criticism from major US airlines.

Many claim that Gulf carriers are receiving unfair government subsidies and therefore damaging American businesses.

New Indian airline

Also this week, Al Baker offered more details to reporters about plans to establish a new, Qatar-owned domestic airline in India.

“It could be this year,” the CEO told Bloomberg in London. “It depends (on) how fast we can arrange our application.”

Chantelle D'mello

For illustrative purposes only

The carrier is expected to be funded by the Qatar Investment Authority and run by Qatar Airways.

The move was made possible by a rule change in India last June that allows 100 percent foreign ownership of Indian airlines for the first time.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways announced last month that it had decided to drop plans to launch a domestic airline in Saudi Arabia following licensing delays.

Thoughts?

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Photo for illustrative purposes only

Updated with Qatar Airways statement

Passengers flying non-stop to the US from Doha are now prohibited from using iPads, Kindles and most other electronic items during their journeys.

The US Department of Homeland Security has announced a ban on such items in the cabin of aircraft coming from 10 cities, including Doha.

Officials said the move was in response to concerns about terrorist attacks.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Hamad Airport security

In a statement released today, DHS cited intelligence suggesting that terrorist groups “continued to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”

The agency added that the ban would only affect a “small percentage of flights” to the US and that no flight departing from the states would be affected.

The ban is effective immediately, though airlines have 96 hours to comply with the requirements.

Electronic items larger than a cell phone will not be accepted on board flights, including laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic game units larger than a smartphone and travel printers/scanners.

Passengers would instead have to store such devices in their checked luggage. Medical equipment is exempted.

The ban is in place indefinitely.

Direct flights to the USA

The 10 affected cities are all from the Middle East.

They are Doha, Cairo, Amman, Kuwait City, Casablanca, Riyadh, Jeddah, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Boeing

The Boeing 777

It will affect flights on nine different airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and Saudi Arabia.

Royal Jordanian actually tweeted passengers about the ban yesterday, but then deleted the post, saying a further update was coming soon.

Qatar Airways, which flies directly from Doha to 10 US cities, has issued a travel alert to passengers about the ban.

In a statement on its website, it said that it had made “special arrangements” to assist passengers in securing their devices in the aircraft’s baggage hold.

It did not elaborate on what these arrangements are.

How it will affect passengers

But the ban means all Qatar Airways passengers flying to the US – whether they are beginning their journey in Doha or starting it elsewhere and switching planes at Hamad International – will have to place larger electronic items in their checked-in baggage.

Chapendra/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This includes iPads, laptops, gaming devices and cameras.

The move is likely to cause considerable confusion for passengers boarding Qatar Airways flights in other countries, and frustration for customers who had hoped to use their devices to work or for entertainment during their flights.

Passengers flying from Doha to the US via airports not affected by the ban, such as London, Amsterdam or Frankfurt, will still be able to keep their electronics with them onboard.

It is still unclear whether flight crew from the region – who use company-provided iPads as part of their jobs – will be allowed to bring them into the US.

Theft fears

Many passengers flying on Qatar Airways and other regional carriers are likely to be reluctant to place valuable electronic items in the hold, due to fears about damage or theft.

Some have expressed these concerns on Twitter:

And others have pointed out that the new ban seems to unfairly target major aviation hubs in the Muslim world:

Would the ban affect you? Thoughts?

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar Airways made waves this week after its CEO announced plans to enter the fast-growing Indian market via a wholly-owned domestic carrier.

But in a possible jab at a Gulf competitor, Akbar Al Baker has pledged to take that expansion one step at a time.

According to the Financial Times, he said:

“We want to do (this) one by one, step by step, so that we don’t put so much food in our mouths that we cannot chew, like some airlines did before.”

“Some airlines” could be a reference to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, which has invested in some struggling European carriers, the FT reports.

It added that the Indian market is an important one for Gulf carriers because it offers a growing clientele.

Pushback

Earlier this week, Al Baker told reporters that he plans to operate a full-service airline in India, not a budget one.

It would initially operate 100 single-aisle aircraft such as Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s, he added.

Boeing

Qatar Airways 737 Max

The move comes after India’s government relaxed requirements for foreign investment in the country.

Qatar Airways has yet to apply for the appropriate license, but domestic carriers in India are already pushing back.

According to Indian publication Mint, they are lobbying against the carrier for several reasons.

These include:

  • Reciprocity concerns, as Qatar does not allow foreign carriers to operate their own wholly-owned airlines in Doha;
  • Unspecified questions about national security; and
  • A strong belief that control of the aviation sector remain in local hands.

Thoughts?