Last Sunday I flew from Washington DC to Dubai before the ban on electronics from select Middle Eastern and African airports was announced.
I wrote my piece on the ban last Tuesday. I don’t have issue with actual security measures, but the way the ban was implemented makes it seem like security theater at best.
Why else would a serious threat only apply from select airports and not worldwide? Why else would it only apply from cities without the presence of a US airline? Why else would it apply to very safe and stable countries like Qatar and the UAE and not Nigeria which has been rocked by Islamic terror (and served by Delta)? Why else did the US ban Qatar and the UAE while the UK excluded those countries from their version of the ban? What’s stopping a terrorist from flying from Morocco to the US via Europe with electronics? Do they only know how to book nonstops?
It’s hard to make the case that this isn’t at least partially about crony protectionism, as the US carriers are unable to deliver a product like foreign carriers can. I’m sure there was a threat, but the method in which it’s being enacted seems more than coincidental.
But the most ridiculous part of the ban is that Abu Dhabi is included. There is full TSA standard screening there and you must clear US customs before you board a US bound plane from Abu Dhabi. Upon landing in the US you continue in the secure part of the airport as if you arrived on any domestic US flight. Baggage is forwarded automatically to your final destination without needing to pick it up.
Presumably due to needing to pass US security and customs in Abu Dhabi, Etihad does not offer a gate checking option.
Originally Etihad declared that you must check in electronics at your origin airport, even if you were just connecting in Abu Dhabi on the way to the US:
That was updated to make it optional to do so:
I flew yesterday from the Maldives to Cleveland via Abu Dhabi, JFK, and LaGuardia. In the Maldives several Etihad agents told me that I had to check in all of my electronics in my luggage. They didn’t know of the updated policy, so I may have taken the liberty of misleading the overzealous agents in the Maldives…
Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi you need to go through a security screening to enter the airport. After security I went to the transfer desk to ask what I could do with my electronics and they just shrugged their shoulders.
So I went into the Etihad First Class Lounge and asked the agents what I needed to do. They made some calls and told me to declare my electronics at the US preclearance facility. So after a massage and kosher meal in the lounge I headed that way.
At security they were fully prepared for this scenario. They had special padded laptop bags and boxes for electronics.
They did not have padding for other items, but I brought bubble wrap provided by the S. Regis Maldives and used that to protect the drone and camera.
I got a claim tag for each of the items that were checked in, which helped assure that items would not stolen. Additionally the box had a fragile sticker and specifically said that it was not to be opened.
Even the US agents there were baffled by Abu Dhabi being included in the electronics ban. Abu Dhabi has literally bent over backwards to accommodate US security and customs. Meanwhile now that has made things even worse as electronics need to be checked at security rather than at the gate.
It was my first flight without a camera and laptop in many years. Luckily I had my own apartment on the plane and had a good night’s sleep. But more on the actual ground and flight experience in a future trip report.
More critically, all of my electronics made it to JFK in one piece.
If you do fly Etihad to the US I’d highly recommend bringing all of your electronics to the US preclearance security and customs to check in your items rather than put them in your suitcase. If you are connecting in Abu Dhabi from another airport where they insist you check your electronics in you should be able to insist that you want to check your items in Abu Dhabi, but either way, they won’t actually check your items for electronics in those airports.
I’d definitely plan to bring bubble wrap to protect your items in the box provided by Etihad in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile Etihad has announced that they will provide free WiFi and free loaner iPads for business and first class passengers flying from Abu Dhabi to the US. Nice touch, day late and a dollar short for me though. Truthfully though, a loaner laptop and camera would have been more useful for my needs. An iPad doesn’t really do anything for me that my phone and the plane’s entertainment system can’t do.
Still, it’s a nice offering on Etihad’s part, though I wonder what free WiFi will do to data speeds.
In the end, Emirates and Etihad shower classes are still awesome and unforgettable, with or without electronics. However it’s an open question if business people will book away from these airlines due to the ban.
What are your thoughts on the electronics ban? Are you having 2nd thoughts about booking a Shower Class award due to the ban? Hit the comments!