Business

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Laptop ban on flights hits on-board productivity as Brexit fears rise

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of America's Business Travel Coalition, is one voice expressing concerns about some of the thinking behind the ban (Stock picture)
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of America's Business Travel Coalition, is one voice expressing concerns about some of the thinking behind the ban (Stock picture)
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Trump travel ban Mark I caused a worldwide storm, not least in the Muslim-majority nations most affected. The revised ban passed by largely unnoticed, while the new laptop regulations haven't stirred quite the same passions.

But the security-related order relegating larger electronic devices to the baggage hold is a strange one, even if the US was acting on intelligence worries, and will be a big headache for executive travellers.

Istanbul Airport - which has security even before check-in - and Abu Dhabi, which even has Irish-style US pre-clearance in its building, are on the list, along with the airports around the Middle East and North Africa.

And it's another headache for corporate America, which relies on effective communications with the global economy.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of America's Business Travel Coalition, is one voice expressing concerns about some of the thinking behind the ban. "This is going to be a real burden on business travellers," he told the Sunday Independent.

"If you need to stay productive on a 19-hour flight from India to the United States via a Middle Eastern hub, you'll probably want to be working for four to five hours on-board."

And he's puzzled by why Nigeria, which has direct flights to the US, isn't listed, while countries with more modern airports are on the watch list.

"I don't think any airport in the US or Canada, or anywhere else, except Tel Aviv, has the same sophisticated security as Abu Dhabi, which borders on the outrageous," Mitchell said. "You could ask, 'why hasn't Israel been included'. The answer would be because Tel Aviv has strong security. The same is true of Abu Dhabi."

With a history of lobbying the US Congress in support of Open Skies - which allows for free competition between US carriers and foreign airlines - he strongly welcomed the impending arrival of Norwegian's routes from Ireland to the east coast.

"I completely support it. It's going to give consumers so much choice, and help travellers on both side of the pond," he said. Frequently critical of the policies of the big US carriers, he reckoned the Norwegian business model - and lower fares - "will be emulated if they succeed" by the big carriers in the US and Europe.

■ With the Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation and the likes of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary voicing concerns over post-Brexit European aviation, industry body Airports Council International (ACI) has stepped into the ring.

ACI Europe, the professional association of airport operators, believes the EU needs to up its game and put aviation at the forefront of Britain's divorce deal - and has warned that Ireland in particular could be the biggest loser.

It highlighted "the prospects of ongoing uncertainty over the rules that will come to govern aviation between the UK and the remaining EU Member States (EU27). This needs to be quickly resolved to provide clarity for passengers, airlines and airports so as to enable continued investment in growing our collective connectivity".

ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec told a conference in London that "Brexit talks will initially focus on agreeing exit terms for the UK, before they eventually come to define the new relationship between the UK and the EU27 as of 2019.

"This implies that the aviation industry will be left in the dark for many more months to come about what will happen," he said. "Unless quickly resolved, this uncertainty will end up constraining route network development for airports, ultimately affecting air connectivity for their communities. This is due to the fact that airline route planning requires both long lead times and legal certainty."

He revealed that smaller countries, most notably Ireland, could suffer most. The markets most reliant on air traffic to/from the UK are: Ireland (39.2pc), the Slovak Republic (33.2pc), Cyprus (31.3pc) and Malta (27.9pc) - none of them a big hitter in Brussels. Chillingly, Jankovec is concerned that the people who will bear the brunt of the uncertainty are passengers themselves on flights between member states and the UK.

"Consumers could find themselves having purchased air tickets that airlines might not be able to honour in the absence of an appropriate legal basis for them to fly," he said.

And he warned that with Brexit talks framed by a strict two-year deadline, "one cannot presume an agreement will be reached on exit terms. Failure to do so would mean the UK exiting the EU without the terms of its new relationship with the bloc being clearly defined. For aviation, this could well result in market access falling back on more restrictive bilateral provisions between the UK and individual EU27 States - with potentially disruptive effects on air connectivity and the economy. "

He warned: "Let's be clear: losing this integration between the UK and EU aviation markets is akin to putting an end to a relationship which creates tremendous value and brings extensive mutual benefits."

■ There's extra connectivity from Ireland to Africa, Asia and beyond as Turkish Airlines goes back to double daily to its Istanbul hub from today. Flights depart Dublin T1 at 10.50am and 4.30pm daily, and leave Istanbul at 7.20am and 1.05pm. Etihad is also returning to double daily ex Dublin, with flights from Dublin T1 to its Abu Dhabi base. Flights out at 9.25am and 7.10pm, and leaving Abu Dhabi at 2.35am and 9.40am.

■ Finnair is offering discounted fares to the Far East via Helsinki in Business Class. Customers for bookings up to April 13. Bangkok is from €1,395, with Shanghai from €1,445. Fares in Economy start from €445 (Beijing). The Airbus A350 long-haul aircraft feature on-board wifi, with handy connection times in the Finnish capital.

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