On Monday night, travelers flying to the US from eight Muslim-majority countries started receiving warnings that they’d need to pack all electronics larger than cell phones into checked luggage; that means no laptops, no tablets, and no cameras (among other things). By Tuesday, Britain followed suit with a similar (but more forgiving) policy.
Included on the do-not-fly-with-gadgets list are passengers heading directly to the US from Abu Dhabi and Dubai; Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha; Kuwait City; Istanbul; and hubs in Saudi Arabia.
The affected airlines? Egypt Air, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines.
Given that a wide swath of passengers flying between the US East Coast and Asia will connect in Dubai or Abu Dhabi (courtesy of powerhouse Gulf carriers Emirates and Etihad, respectively) the ban has extreme implications. Both foreign visitors and US citizens will see their entertainment options slim way down, along with their in-flight productivity. Since many business- and first-class passengers expect to work on these flights, which can range from eight to 16 hours, the ban may pose a threat to the airlines’ bottom line as fliers look to hubs in Europe when traveling through the region. (Some speculate this is an effort to boost American competitors.)
Few loyalists are likely to abandon the posh Gulf carriers, though; Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways all have top-notch in-flight entertainment systems, with as many as 2,500 channels that include binge-worthy TV series, recent Oscar winners and nominees, and live sports and news streaming. Emirates even lets you connect to the onboard Wi-Fi system on your seat-back screen; the TV remote control has a full keyboard on the back, so you can easily manage your email. In business class on an A380, passengers can also hit up the full bar in the back of the top deck (which is soon to become a great networking spot!).
The smaller carriers are the ones that will suffer. How, for instance, will a nonstop flight on the no-frills, no-gadgets Royal Air Maroc compete with a slightly longer connecting route on plush, laptop-friendly Air France? Easy answer: It won’t.
If you’re a flier who needs to work during those long hours, or you just want to maintain control of your own entertainment, here are your options.
Productivity Hacks for the Laptop-Deprived
So you’ve already booked a ticket on a flight that’s electronically restricted? Here’s what to do.
The analog option: Buy a smart notebook, a pen-and-paper setup that will save your notes, memos, and doodles to the cloud. Both Moleskine and Montblanc offer good choices here.
The digital option: If you’re used to typing on an iPad or laptop keyboard, pick up a collapsible universal keyboard (like this one or this one) that will pair with your phone, too. Even the largest phone is still on the small side for word processing, but it’ll do in a pinch, and apps such as Evernote and Google Keep will make it easy to seamlessly transfer your work to a larger device when you’re back on terra firma.
Small-Screen (and No-Screen) Entertainment
Averting boredom starts before you even leave for the airport. Check your carrier’s website to get a sense of its seat-back entertainment offerings, and figure out how many free hours you’ll likely have to fill, then choose your own adventure.
The analog option: Remember the tactile fulfillment you used to get out of thumbing through a great novel, feeling the paper weather under your fingertips as the book’s weight shifted from your left hand to your right? That’s still a thing.
Oh, and there’s a reason coloring books have made inroads with a grown-up audience. Detailed options like the floral- and jungle-themed books by Johanna Basford double as scavenger hunts, and they’re a great way to zone out for long stretches of time.
The digital option: How many articles have you saved for future reference on Facebook lately, or left open on a tab at work? Start using apps such as Instapaper or Pocket that let you catch up on your reading offline, and migrate over all that good content. Then throw in some podcasts (or audio books on Audible, if you’re a persistent paper-hater); offline language lessons courtesy of Babbel; and games that make you think a bit, like Imago or Logic Puzzles. If you’ve never tried the last group, they’ll surprise you with how long they can engage and entertain you.
How to Keep Your Checked Gadgets Safe
Two things to bear in mind: The electronics ban applies only on inbound flights to the U.S., so there’s no need to forgo your laptop or tablet on outbound journeys. But having access to gadgets on one leg means you’ll have to keep them secure on the other.
Avert suitcase theft by starting with the right bag, preferably one with buckles instead of zippers. (Zippers are much easier to break into, with or without a TSA-approved lock.) The Arlo Skye is the size of a carry-on but newly rereleased with a stronger, more dent-resistant construction that makes it perfect for checking; these larger bags by Zero Halliburton can also do the trick.
Then stick Tiles onto your gadgets to make them trackable; the adhesive chips have GPS sensors and sync to a dedicated app. And look on the bright side: You’ll have far less to schlep around the airport and into those perpetually crowded overhead bins.