Kolkata: Flyers and airlines officials are wary of damage to their electronic gadgets during transfers at airports. As the embargo on electronic items larger than a smartphone kicked off at Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and other hub airports in the Gulf on Saturday, passengers from Kolkata travelling on Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways expressed concern over the safety of their laptops, tablets and cameras stashed in the regist-ered luggage.
“Nearly every passenger wants their bag marked fragile as they have had to put their gadgets in the luggage. People never put these items in the cargo hold. So their concern is natural,” said an official of a Gulf-based carrier that has begun complying with the restrictions announced by the Trump administration.
An entrepreneur in Washington DC, who travels to India, pointed out the inconsistencies about rules of travelling with electronics around the world that will make travel confusing and a great hassle. “In India, electronics or lithium batteries are not allowed in registered bags, which is contrary to the new rule. Also, airlines have always advised passengers to keep valuables like laptops in the cabin. Will airlines provide additional security to ensure the devices get to their destination safe and sound?”
Airlines staff, too, are worried about handling the luggage and possible damage to electronic goods. Though they have briefed Air India’s baggage handlers, who also provide services to other international carriers, they are bracing up for possible reports of damage that may lead to compensatory payouts from the airline.
“This is an unprecedented situation. Though baggage handlers are asked to look out for fragile stickers and handle the bags with care, if all bags are marked fragile, the handle-with-care instruction tends to get lost,” said a ground staffer of an airline.
Nine out of 10 US-bound travellers who boarded flights on Friday and Saturday had already packed large electronic goods in their registered luggage. The few that hadn’t, did so at the airport before handing over the bags to the airlines staff.
Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have, over the past few days, been contacting flyers and informing them of the restriction through mails, calls and messages. When passengers approached the check-in desk, they were reminded of the rule so they could have a last-minute opportunity to put their electronic items in the registered bag before it gets through-checked to US.
Emirates did offer passengers the opportunity to use their laptops and other devices on the first leg of the flight till Dubai. Thereafter, the items were to be collected by the airline staff and handed back to passengers on arrival in the US. But hardly anyone availed of the facility as the Kolkata-Dubai leg is short.
Nandini Bhattacharya, who is booked on a flight to Washington DC on Wednesday, is wary of the 14 unproductive hours she will face on the flight from Dubai. “Without work, the flight will seem to stretch on forever,” said Bhattacharya, who lives in Maryland and is currently visiting her mother in Kolkata.
Dillon Sellars, a software engineer in the US who often travels to India, echoes the concern. “On long international flights from the affected countries, it is no longer possible to do serious work. One can catch up on emails with smartphones, but programming, creative work, and working with large documents and spreadsheets is off the table. For those who like to be productive on long-haul flights, that is a major impact. If you add up the layovers, one can be rendered non-productive for 24 hours or more. The possibility of losing your luggage with your laptop inside or having government entities access your devices from your luggage without your knowledge is also quite concerning,” he said.
Richa Prasad, a globe-trotting investment banker who grew up in Kolkata and now lives in the UK, raises a green concern. “I will have to print reams of documents to read on the flight. Clearly, this multiplied by hundreds of thousands of business travellers cannot be good for the environment.”