EMIRATES PRESIDENT: We don’t know if the US laptop ban will hurt business — but here’s how things went this … – Business Insider


Emirates tim clark
Emirates President Sir Tim Clark.
REUTERS/Neil Hall

Emirates Airline won’t be able to gauge the financial effects of
the US government’s ban on laptops on flights from the Middle East
until May
, but the rollout of the policy last weekend was
relatively smooth, its president, Sir Tim Clark, said in an
interview with Business Insider.

“I can’t tell you the long-term effects because it’s still early
days,” Clark said by phone from Dubai.

Emirates, one of nine airlines affected by the ban, counts on
direct flights to the US for about 11% of its revenue, Clark
said. The policy prohibits passengers from carrying electronic
devices larger than a cellphone on direct flights from the Middle
East.

The ban took effect on March 25, and Clark said that while some
operational issues came up, things mostly went OK. Emirates
expects to have a better idea of the financial effects by the
middle of May, when discretionary travelers such as those heading
on summer vacation start to book travel.

“When they start looking a bit flaky, then we’ll have to decide
what we’ll have to do,” Clark said. “Hopefully things settle down
and it’ll be business as close to normal as possible.”

Emirates did feel an immediate effect from the Trump
administration’s January immigration ban. That executive order —
which prohibited immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries
— was blocked by a court ruling, but not before the airline was
able to see its effect on bookings, Clark said.

“The rate at which our bookings were growing started to flatten
out and go south. It stabilized, and then the second executive
order came out, and we’re watching that very carefully,” Clark
said about the ban.

Clark thinks the airline will have an idea of the effect of
Trump’s second executive order — also under a court-ordered stay
— by May. Emirates has been expanding its business into the US
for several years and now flies direct from Dubai to 11 cities in
the country.

“The US operation is becoming progressively more important. It’s
about 11% to 12% of what we do at the moment — growing probably
up to 15% at some point with 18 flights a day to 11
destinations,” Clark said.

“It’s not as big as Australia, Europe, or the United Kingdom, but
it’s growing all the time. It’s vital to us actually because
we’ve opened so many points which are very popular with our
client base.”

Speed bumps


Emirates Airbus A380
An Emirates Airbus
A380.

AP

Emirates did encounter a few bumps over the weekend.

“There have been a few hiccups, mainly on the other end, but
we’re working with the TSA here in Dubai and at the airports to
work on the baggage and laptop procedures,” Clark went on.

“I think it was a bit of a challenge for the 11 US airports we
fly into. I’m not sure they were that well prepared, even though
the instructions had come from the US.”

According to Clark, arriving flights have experienced
slower-than-expected baggage delivery at some airports.

“I don’t think they were as coordinated as they could have been
in the logistics of dealing with the bags because they decided to
screen all of the cargo-hold bags and delayed a few bags on the
baggage belt,” Clark said.

“We are finding that as the days move on, they are getting better
at what they do, and they all understand the criticality of
speeding the bags and laptops to the arrival hall for our
passengers.”

Further, while there hasn’t been a lot of pushback from
passengers, Emirates is still trying to work things out with
entities that don’t allow their employees to check work laptops.
Chief among them is the US government.

That’s because all US government employees traveling for work to the
Middle East
on their employers’ tab fly Emirates. (The
tickets are sold by JetBlue, but the flights are operated by
Emirates under a code-share agreement.)

Real motives

The ban has faced criticism from airline-industry and
intelligence experts, who say it’s unclear what its rationale is.
The Department of Homeland Security said that intelligence shows
terrorist groups are targeting commercial airliners by smuggling
explosives in devices such as laptops. This only increased after
the UK — working from the same intelligence as the US — chose not
to ban flights coming from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

“Both countries recognize there’s a clear and present threat, and
that had to be dealt with. We will comply with the requests of
the states we fly to — otherwise they won’t allow us to fly,”
Clark said. “I can’t comment on why the Brits did one thing and
the Americans did another. I think there was a common threat and
chose to address them in different way, and I’m not criticizing
either of them for doing what they did, and we’ll just do what we
can to help out and secure the safety of our operation, which is
vital for us.”

Some industry analysts have speculated that an ongoing dispute
between US airlines (American, Delta, United) and their Middle
Eastern rivals (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways) played a role.

Clark doesn’t believe this is the case.

“Yes, there are issues. The infantile approach of the US carriers
against the Gulf carriers continues. But I’m a believer that
states will not cross over into the commercial side of things
when you’re talking about safety of operation where lives are at
stake. This is not something you mix up,” the Emirates boss told
us.

“They won’t give up, but I don’t believe they’ve guided the hand
of the US government with regard to this.

“I remain confident, and I’ve had multiple undertakings from the
people who represent the United Arab Emirates in the US
government who have assured me that is not the case, and I’m
inclined to believe them. I don’t think that’s something the
United States government would do given the very strong
relationship they have with the United Arab Emirates.

“Now, I hope that I’m right and that I’m never proved wrong,”
Clark added cautiously.


Dubai Airport
Dubai
Airport.

Reuters/Jumana
El-Heloueh


But overall, Clark is pleased with how things have gone.
Emirates’ communication with its customers — reminding them to
check their laptops and enjoy the in-flight entertainment — seems
to have been successful.

“It’s working quite well. A lot of people paid heed to the
message and packed their laptops in their suitcases,” Clark said
of his airline’s operation.

Emirates’ laptop-handling service, which gives
passengers access to their laptops until the moment they board
US-bound flights, found fewer takers than expected, he said.

With the laptop ban still in its early stages, the situation
remains fluid. Stay tuned. There’s likely more to come.

If you’re a business traveler affected by the US laptop ban,
you can share your story with
transportation@businessinsider.com.

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