Recently the US banned carrying all personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone in carry-on bags of air passengers who board direct flights to the US from ten airports in the Gulf and Middle-East Muslim countries. This notification would compel passengers to take laptops, i-pads... in checked-in baggage.
This has serious implications for air-travellers from India. Of the estimated 27 lakh Indians who flew into the US during 2015-16, nearly half travelled through the Gulf region. Aggregating passengers from different Indian cities at their respective hubs in the Gulf, they offer convenient, direct non-stop flights to several US destinations. With much less crowded airports (except perhaps Dubai and Jeddah), these desert kingdoms offer shorter flight durations flying non-stop from their hubs. Etihad also offers a unique facility: of positioning the US immigration and customs sections at Manama and landing the passengers in the US as domestic travellers.
American airlines uncompetetive
All these have been impacting the American airlines. Until a couple of decades ago the US airlines dominated the skies. PanAm offered the round-the-world Clipper services, one flying east to west and the other west to east, for several decades. Post 1980, European airlines nibbled substantial chunks of business from the American airlines that resulted in the demise of PanAm, TWA...
Riding on the oil boom, Gulf countries have invested heavily on airports and modern fleet. Just look at the f aggressive pricing: traditionally American and European airlines have been charging for a typical economy class fare from Chennai to US, Rs 90,000 and a business class seat in excess of Rs 300,000. On special packages, airlines from Gulf countries offer these respectively at less than Rs 60,000 and around Rs 150,000. Chief executives of airlines of the US recently met President Donald Trump and lamented over their lack of competitiveness. (Most of them do not operate through India). There is suspicion that the recent ban may have to do with this.
Risk of lap-tops stolen, damaged...
There are a couple of other paradoxes: US regulations advise not to lock check-in baggage. There is thus the risk of expensive laptops and i-pads getting stolen; or damaged through rough handling of baggage.
With long lay-overs, waits in transit and long flights passengers have been accustomed to working on their laptops productively. Should this be denied?
However,Air-India should be happy over this ban. It offers direct flights to the US from Delhi and Mumbai; but disappointingly not from south. It’s time to look closely on the prospects for direct non-stop flights to US cities from Chennai/Bengaluru. – SV