DUBAI: Emirates airline, the biggest carrier in the Middle East, is considering a resumption of its ambitious American expansion plan after the ban on laptops in cabins on flights between Dubai and US airports was lifted on Wednesday.
The ban — imposed in March because of security fears over 10 regional airports — was overturned following the decision of the US Department of Homeland Security’s transport authority to impose more stringent airport security checks on foreign airports.
As a result of the ban and a fall-off in traffic numbers to US destinations, Emirates cut flights on five US routes. But now it is considering reinstating those flights, and even adding new ones, if demand and the US authorities allow.
A spokesperson at Emirates said on Wednesday: “We’re thinking about it. It’s a commercial decision to be made by senior management.”
Last month Tim Clark, the airline’s president, told journalists at the Paris Air Show that demand was coming back on its US routes, even allowing for the laptop ban. “The markets are coming back to us. I’m watching every day to see whether we can put back the Boston and Seattle flights because the seat factors are in the low 90s,” Clark told Reuters.
“I’m hoping that the trauma of a few months ago in March is starting to even out. I’m hoping we can get operations back to where they were,” he added.
Along with those two destinations, flights were also cut to Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Emirates now flies to the US 103 times per week, compared to 126 before the laptop ban.
However, future moves will depend on demand to US destinations. Overall tourism to the US is down following the election of President Donald Trump and his controversial immigration policies.
The first Emirates flight to allow personal laptops and other large electronic equipment in four months was EK201, from Dubai to New York’s JFK airport, on Wednesday morning.
A statement from the airline said: “Effective immediately, the electronics ban has been lifted for Emirates’ flights from Dubai International Airport to the USA. Emirates has been 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 would like to express our gratitude to the US and local authorities for their support and thank our customers for their understanding and patience during the last few months when the ban was in place,” it added.
Saj Ahmad, an analyst at StrategicAero Research consultancy, said: “The laptop ban being removed will allow Emirates to not only claw back lucrative high-fare-paying passengers on US-bound flights, but it will also decrease the risk and costs of packaging up devices to store in the cargo hold.
“Added passenger traffic will push a sharp rebound in load factors and I can see Emirates reinstating services to cities like Boston and Seattle, for example — cities that had frequencies reduced in the wake of demand falling due to the travel ban and electronic device ban,” he added.
It is also possible the laptop ban will be lifted on Qatar Airways flights to the US.
A spokesperson for the Transportation Security Authority in Arlington, Virginia, said Doha was one of the regional hubs being inspected, “to verify that the measures have been implemented correctly and to the full extent required.”
Source : Arab News