No laptop left behind: Qatar Air ably adapts to electronics ban

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The check-in area for Qatar Airways in the Doha Airport has signs explaining the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new restrictions regarding carry-on electronic devices and passengers’ options.
The check-in area for Qatar Airways in the Doha Airport has signs explaining the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new restrictions regarding carry-on electronic devices and passengers’ options. Photo Credit: TW photo by Eric Moya

DOHA, Qatar — Note to self: As pleas to airport security go, "But I'm a journalist!" is … ineffective.

The above protestation was uttered by a fellow travel writer at the airport here last week as we prepared to board our Qatar Airways return flight to New York JFK, having just completed a four-day fam trip sponsored by the Qatar Tourism Authority to showcase the country as a stopover destination.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's new restrictions on carry-on electronics aboard flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and northern Africa had come up a couple of times during the trip. Reporters and tour operators asked tourism officials if they thought the restrictions would have an impact on tourism to Qatar, one of eight affected countries. (Most said they expected some backlash among business travelers but felt leisure travel would largely be unaffected.)

But the camera-toting writer was apparently unaware that she'd have to surrender her point-and-shoot (nearly the size of an SLR) at the gate at Doha. Understandable, perhaps, since it's so frequently referred to as a "laptop ban."

Throughout the check-in area, Qatar Airways posted signs explaining the policy (devices larger than 6.3 inches by 3.7 inches by 0.6 inches must be checked, meaning smartphones are OK to carry on) and spelling out passengers' options.

The security checkpoint at boarding gate of Doha Airport.
The security checkpoint at boarding gate of Doha Airport. Photo Credit: TW photo by Eric Moya

Passengers "are encouraged to secure their items … in their checked-in luggage," read the signs, and that's what I was prepared to do. Normally, I would have brought a small, soft-side carry-on for a trip of this length, but once the restrictions were enacted, I thought it might be best to bring something larger (for padding purposes) and sturdier. I decided to downsize my usual camera rig, with the expectation that my laptop and camera equipment would make the ride home in my hardside suitcase.

The ticket agent placed a "Fragile" sticker on it, and off I went to the gate, maybe a little nervous that my company-provided MacBook Air would meet a grim fate (as would I, once our IT department was notified).

The signs went on to say: "Passengers who wish to carry [prohibited] electronic devices up until boarding … will be able to do so. At that time, all electronic devices will be collected, and Qatar Airways will ensure that they are carefully bubble-wrapped in the presence of the owner, placed in a carton box, further covered with a polythene plastic bag and tagged for ease of tracking."

This is the route my fellow writer had to follow with her camera after the gate agent went around to passengers to ask whether they had any devices that exceeded the size limit. The cardboard shipping box the gate agent produced looked sturdy and roomy enough to accommodate the largest laptops.

In addition to regular security screening, our gate had its own screening area, complete with scanners for carry-ons. I was chosen at random for a search, and underwent a pat-down (on the, ahem, thorough side) as they emptied and swabbed my backpack.

For obvious reasons, I didn't get much work done on the flight (our 777 wasn't WiFi-equipped, anyway). Thankfully, Qatar Airways' entertainment options proved ample; one colleague noted that the movie selection had been updated since our arrival flight mere days before.

Like other affected carriers, Qatar Airways recently announced a solution for passengers looking to maintain productivity en route to the U.S.: loaner laptops for business-class passengers. I don't recall seeing any passengers taking advantage of the offer, however.

About 14 hours after departure, passengers encircled the baggage claim area at JFK. My suitcase was one of the first to make it to the conveyor, and I immediately opened it and powered up the Mac: all systems go. My camera was fine, too.

I didn't stick around to see how my fellow writer's camera fared, but I imagine it, too, was fine. Judging from my experience at Doha, Qatar Airways has seamlessly implemented changes wrought by the ban. Here's hoping it's going as smoothly elsewhere, for the sake of passengers and beleaguered IT departments everywhere.

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