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Countering The Ban: Etihad To Offer Free WiFi and iPads to First and Biz Passengers on US Bound Flights

The big Middle Eastern Airlines – Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines – have all been affected by the new ludicrous electronic ban imposed by the Trump administration. All personal electronic devices, bar mobile phoines, are banned as carry ons and will now have to be checked into the baggage hold for passengers traveling on these airlines to all American destinations.

Given these strict new restrictions, the big four airlines have all taken measures to impose the new rules with little lead in time – 96 hours to be precise. And all have, for obvious reasons.

But they have all taken different approaches to how to handle the ban and how to ease the inconvenience of the electronic carry on rule.

To ease passengers’ seperation anxiety with their devices, Emirates introduced new little mini secure boxes that will be available at the gate and can be gate checked just prior to boarding and picked up on disembarkation at your destination. Turkish Airlines has offered a similar services but in sealed plastic bag mode. Qatar has waived late checked bag fees in Doha for passengers who need to belatedly put their electronics in the cargo hold. These are all measures that are targeted for transit passengers, which constitute the bulk of passengers traveling on these airlines to the United States. While helpful and appreciative of the situation at hand, it’s far from ideal.

Etihad (EY) has come up with an alternate solution, which they announced through twitter yesterday.

The Scoop:

Etihad has announced that the airline will introduce free WiFi for all passengers to give passengers an additional option of in flight entertainment and work related issues for all US bound flights from their home hub of Abu Dhabi. While the airline’s E-box entertainment system available on all aircraft is great, it doesn’t allow for people to work and check emails so this is a great boon for passengers. WiFi is already available on Etihad aircraft but the airline is rather pricey in this regard, charging $24 for a daily pass and it gets even more expensive the lower the tier you go in terms of hourly usage.

Secondly, Etihad will also load onto US bound aircraft with airline issued and supplied iPads and Android tablets for passengers to use in their First and Business Class cabins. These will be available free of charge for usage inflight and will be offered up after take off from Abu Dhabi and will be collected 45 minutes prior to arrival at your destination. We’re not sure what the numbers of unites will be available as the airline hasn’t made that clear yet, but from Etihad has said supply shouldn’t be a problem. What we’re also not sure of is whether the tablets will come pre-loaded with additional entertainment options or whether they’ll simply loaded with the basics and are intended mainly for WiFi use. Given Etihad’s extensive E-box system, we’re thinking not. Why pay for the additional usage rights? 

Etihad isn’t the first airline to offer this service, many airlines around the world, such as American, Garuda, Qantas and others offer up iPads with pre-loaded content to compensate for the minority of their fleet that lack any inflight entertainment on longer routes. EY are however the first to do so on top of their personal entertainment system.

Etihad, EY, Etihad Airways, Etihad A380

Etihad operates the A380 on their double daily services to New York’s JFK International Airport. Image credit: WikiMedia 

The Takeaway:

So a few things here.

First, kudos to Etihad for coming up with an innovative way to circumvent the ban and lessen the incovenience for all passengers, epsecially their premium customers with the free for use iPads and Android tablets.

There might be some issues, however.

Etihad’s WiFi system as mentioned above is currently on a pay for use basis. Making it free will also mean that many more folks will be on it – and that will drastically slow down the speed of the service – to the point where it may even be barely usable. Just ask Emirates, who already offers basically free WiFi but the service is so slow now that its basically useless. Unless Etihad has plans to increase the bandwith of their inflight internet, this new service might be a huge let down for passengers expecting to get work done in flight and open the airline for criticsm for taking this move. If the tablets don’t come with pre-loaded content, it might also render them useless as no one is going to surf the net if you can barely send an email from them.

Secondly, we’re not exactly sure how Etihad has gone around the new electronics rule. Technically speaking, you’re not allowed to bring a tablet on board, but theoretcially they are allowed to be on board. I know, it’s semantics gone mad. We’re assuming EY can do it because they are going be “sterile” as in the devices will undergo extra security and will be treated the same way as other “sterile” items that go onboard. They also only be accessed by select ground handlers and cabin crew who have all have security clearance and will surely undergo screening that day. But we wouldn’t be surprised if the Department of Homeland Security steps in and ammends the rule to negate Etihad’s attempt to get personal electronic devices on board, so watch this space.

Overall, a very commendable move by Etihad and if it works out it will make for great PR for the airline with minimal investment. But it strikes us as a bit odd that somehow EY will be allowed to do this – the whole point of the ban was a “security issue” – worries that people might be able to use these devices to detonate an explosive device through them. If they don’t trust the security at Abu Dhabi International Airport, a global hub and one that has USA immigration pre-clerance to boot, what makes them allow these tablets through what is essentially a parallel security channel at the same airport? 

We’ll see.

Do you think that the tablets will make their way onboard in the end? Would this turn you to Etihad over the other airlines affected, or do you think if it works for EY others might follow? 

Featured image credit: WikiMedia

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