JEDDAH: Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) will be able to fly passengers to the US with their laptops and other large personal electronic devices as cabin luggage by July 19, in a deal worked out between the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation and US transport security authorities.
The ban was imposed in March on 10 regional airports in the Middle East because of heightened fears of a terrorist attack, and led to a cutback in services on some routes between the Middle East and the US.
Saudia announced it has been “working in conjunction with the GACA to implement new directives from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concerning alternative security measures permitting large portable electronic devices in the cabin on flights to the USA. Saudia is currently working to meet all requirements outlined by the DHS with this regard. A further update will be issued once the matter is finalized.” The lifting of the ban would come into effect “on or before July 19,” it added.
Separately, Emirates Airline, the biggest carrier between the Gulf and the US, said that it too was hopeful the ban would be lifted soon. “Emirates is working hard in coordination with various aviation stakeholders and the local authorities to implement heightened security measures and protocols that meet the requirements of the US Department of Homeland Security’s new security guidelines for all US-bound flights.
“We hope that we will receive validation that all measures have been successfully implemented so that the electronics ban can be lifted as soon as possible for our US flights,” a statement added.
A spokesperson for Emirates could not give a date when passengers would be able to once more bring their own devices on board as cabin luggage.
Earlier this week, Etihad became the first of the “laptop ban” airlines to negotiate a suspension of the US measures, lifting the restrictions on flights on Sunday, partly because it has a pre-clearance facility at its home airport in Abu Dhabi to facilitate US immigration and customs procedures. The lifting of the ban will enable passengers to access personal laptops and other electronics during the 13-hour flight from the Arabian Gulf to the US East Coast.
Some critics had alleged the ban was politically motivated as a commercial measure against Etihad and Emirates, who are embroiled in a war of words with the US airline industry over alleged abuses of the “open skies” agreements between the UAE and the US. The new measures stipulated by the DHS’ Transportation Security Authority involve enhanced screening and security measures at airports in the Middle East for electronic equipment, passengers and explosives detection.
Saj Ahmad, aviation expert at Strategic Aero Research, said: “Lifting the ban makes sense. Given the risk of too many batteries/laptops in the cargo hold, which led to the UPS 747 crash in Dubai a few years back, this rule change would make it easier for crew to deal with a potential battery incident which would be visible in the cabin.
“And with that change, it is likely we’ll see a surge in US-bound traffic from the GCC so we could see the likes of Emirates adding new flights back to the US,” he added.
There is still a ban on laptops imposed by UK aviation authorities on flights from Saudi Arabia, but analysts expect that to also be removed soon: “If the US bans are removed then the UK would struggle to justify its position and is why I think it will be removed too,” Ahmad said.
The UK laptop ban never applied to travelers from the UAE.