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Emirates chief mulls loaner laptops to soften blow from US ban

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The Dubai-based airline may explore "creative" ways to work around the ban if it remains in place over the long term, President Tim Clark said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

[DUBAI] Emirates may offer passengers loaner laptops as the world's biggest long-haul carrier seeks to soften the blow from a US ban on electronics in airplane cabins.

The Dubai-based airline may explore "creative" ways to work around the ban if it remains in place over the long term, President Tim Clark said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. 

That could include providing government-approved laptops that "can be used in-flight to help people do what they need to do in the absence of devices that are in the hold".

Routes to the US could also be at risk if travellers book with rivals. If customer demand diminishes due to "whatever actions the United States government takes, we will have to adjust accordingly, that's just good business", he said.

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Under a rule that came into effect on Saturday, the US prohibits travellers on flights from 10 Middle Eastern airports, including Dubai, from bringing large electronics into the aircraft cabin.

The UK partially followed, but didn't target Persian Gulf hubs. The ban deals an additional blow to the likes of Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways after President Donald Trump earlier this year restricted citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

Mr Clark was critical of the selective targeting of the ban, saying if there's a risk that laptops can be used during flights for terrorist activity, then the restriction "should be applied to the airline industry universally", he said.

After Mr Trump's initial travel ban, Emirates said the rate of bookings growth to the US dropped. The latest policy won't "help" demand for Emirates' 18 flights a day to the US, Mr Clark said, adding that a true assessment of the ban's impact will come next month as travellers plan summer vacations. 

Still, no changes are planned yet, and Emirates expects "robust demand" on its new Athens-Newark route this year, which will be exempt from the US order. While there have been some difficulties on the US side, the first 48 hours of the ban's implementation, including allowing passengers to use laptops up until boarding, have proceeded without customer complaints, according to the Emirates chief.

"So far, so good," he said, echoing comments from rival Abu Dhabi-based Etihad.

"It's still early days, we have to see what the next few months will bring us."

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