What It’s Like to Travel During the Electronics Ban
Flying back from the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, there were only two options: pack my electronics and check my suitcase, or gate-check them before boarding.
On March 21, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security prohibited passengers on flights originating in 10 Middle Eastern and North African countries from carrying-on electronics larger than a cellphone.
That means for travelers flying to the U.S. from Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all iPads, laptops, cameras, and other large devices must be kept in checked luggage.
But for travelers aboard Emirates, there’s an alternative: The Dubai-based airline lets passengers gate-check their electronics.
On a New York City-bound flight early Sunday morning, I opted to test drive their solution to the electronics ban.
Nothing about the process of checking in, nor going through security, changes for travelers. But at the gate in Dubai International Airport, additional security personnel were stationed behind the check-in desk. Basically, passengers are required to submit to an additional round of security screening.
After scanning my boarding pass, I was asked by a security agent whether or not I was carrying any electronics. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I had of course chosen to gate-check not only my work laptop, but also my DSLR.
Travelers should note that even those passengers not checking electronics were subjected to additional baggage searches — two tables with airport security staff were on-hand to thoroughly examine bags.
Another security officer asked me to present my electronics, which were examined before I powered them down. The rest of my luggage was also opened and inspected.
Afterward, I was issued new baggage claim stickers for my devices. An Emirates staff member bubble-wrapped my laptop (which had no case) and securely packed my camera (which did have a case) in separate, duty-free boxes.
The boxes were taped shut and fitted with secure cable ties. Each was labeled with my name, the type of device, destination (JFK), and claim number. From here, they were carted off in bins to the cargo hold.
Clearly, the process is new and still needs work. There simply was not enough staff to accommodate the swell of passengers. I waited for at least half an hour to board, and the flight landed, as a result, approximately 40 minutes behind schedule. There was also plenty of confusion about the new regulations, with passengers being asked to check large duty-free liquid purchases (which, notably, had to be checked in luggage, as the boxes were reserved specifically for electronics).
After landing and clearing customs and immigration, travelers who gate-checked electronics were directed to an exclusive carousel, where the devices were visibly passed in trays by hand from the cargo hold to Emirates cabin crew.
To claim my laptop and camera, I presented my baggage claim stickers to an Emirates crew member, who clipped the security ties for me so I could verify that the products were in fact mine. I signed for each one, and then evaluated their condition. No damage of which to speak of.
For travelers — especially those on business — Emirates’ gate-check system is a great way to maximize your time with your devices (and your ability to work). And to an extent, the exchange of electronics felt much more secure than if I were to have packed them in a suitcase and sent the lot to the general cargo hold. There were treated as fragile items, and the team made every effort to ensure the devices were passed directly from passengers, to cabin crew, and back.
But it was a time-consuming process, to be sure. And even more so, I imagine, for travelers late to baggage claim or with multiple devices in tow.
Emirates isn’t the only airline making accommodations for travelers impacted by the electronics ban. Etihad is offering first and business-class travelers free Wi-Fi and iPads on flights to the U.S. from Abu Dhabi, while Qatar is loaning laptops (and giving free Wi-Fi) to business class travelers en-route to the United States. Like Emirates, Turkish Airlines has also announced plans to let travelers gate-check certain electronics.
No end date has been set for the electronics ban at this time. So if you're the type of person who can't stand letting your personal electronics out of sight for even a minute, you might want to consider whether or not to bring them with you in the first place if you're going to be flying to the United States from a flight originating in, or connecting at, an airport impacted by the directive.