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How airlines are responding to America’s laptop ban

THE recently announced ban on laptops and other large electronic devices on direct flights from Middle Eastern airports to America is bad news for business travellers hoping to get work done on these long journeys. That, in turn, spells trouble for the airlines that fly these routes. Carriers like Emirates, Turkish, Qatar, and Etihad compete for long-haul flyers all over the world. They have just become a little bit less competitive. (Gulliver recently booked a flight from Manila to Washington, DC on Emirates, via Dubai; had he known what was coming, he might well have opted to fly via Tokyo or Beijing instead.)

Turkish Airlines stock tumbled more than 7% after the ban was announced in America. (Britain announced similar restrictions soon after, though crucially the superconnectors’ hubs in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey were not included.) Rival airlines, meanwhile, are thrilled at the news. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar currently serve half the travellers flying between India and the United States, for example. Air India now expects to pick up a chunk of this business.

But the affected airlines and their sponsor states aren’t taking the news lying down. Turkish Airlines is half owned by the state, and pro-government media in the country slammed the ban as a ploy to undermine the carrier. Etihad took a marginally subtler jab at President Trump, releasing an ad entitled “Make Flying Great Again” (see below). The video highlights the airline’s food, seatback entertainment and wi-fi for smartphones—in other words, all the ways passengers can enjoy a flight without the need for a laptop or tablet.

The same day the ban was announced, Emirates posted an 18-second video to Twitter that opened with the text, “Who needs laptops and tablets anyway?” It features Jennifer Aniston, an actress, who marvels at all the games and movies available in the seatback console. Not all potential customers were impressed: The first tweet in response came from an International Middle East Media Center employee, who wrote, “@emirates journalists aren’t looking to be entertained on long flights. Laptops are necessary to meeting a deadline.”

Let us entertain you.

— Emirates airline (@emirates) March 21, 2017

Royal Jordanian Airlines took perhaps the most novel approach, responding on Twitter in verse (if not quite in metre):

Every week a new ban

Travel to the U.S. since you can

We are now poets because of you son

No one can ruin our in-flight fun

We have good tips for everyone

The airline followed up with a tweet outlining “12 things to do on a 12-hour flight with no laptop or tablet”, although some, like #9 (“Pretend tray table is a keyboard”), might not be too persuasive, nor another suggesting, “do what we Jordanians do best… Stare at each other!”

Few business travellers on a flight from Dubai to New York are going to be content to stare at one another for 14 hours. Cheap tickets may be enough of a consideration to steer some holidaymakers to the affected airlines when they have a choice of routing their flights elsewhere. But for business travellers, time is money; getting work done on the plane is critical. And so a cute video or amateur poem is unlikely to persuade many of them to forfeit their laptops. Ultimately, these attempts at levity by the airlines say less about their sense of humour than about their sense of desperation.

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