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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

I’ll fly to America on my national airline through thick and thin

The laptop ban wrought havoc on business travelers and altered routes for many.
The laptop ban wrought havoc on business travelers and altered routes for many.

Last morning was like any other summer morning. I woke up, prepared my morning coffee and walked outside to check the news on social media. I am spending the summer in California with my family, our first real holiday in three years since we left the United States.

As I was scrolling through twitter, an email popped up from Etihad Airways. The subject read: “Take all your electronics on US flights again”. At first I thought it was spam, but it wasn’t. The email said: “If you are planning to travel to the US in the near future, we wanted to let you know that you can now take all your electronic devices on board our US flights from Abu Dhabi.”

We flew to San Francisco from Abu Dhabi just a week ago, while the ban was still in place. Strangely, I felt happy that I got to experience it. Now I can share the story with my grandchildren if they ever complain that long-haul flights are boring. “Well kids, back in those days, there was a time we couldn’t even take our laptops on the plane,” I would say.

My eldest son, Khalifa, loves flying. I remember that whenever we went to America in the past, my wife and I used our Airmiles to upgrade to business class. During the journey, Khalifa would take out his iPad and while swiping away like a little corporate executive, order his two cookies with a glass of cold milk.

This time, my wife and I made sure to pack all our electronic items in a bag, including our big phones, as we were told to do by an Etihad call-centre agent. The only ones we had on us were our smaller phones and a small camera. When we got to the check-in counter, we were reminded of the laptop ban. Apparently, we could carry our larger phones, but the camera had to be checked in.

To be honest, it wasn’t a big deal and my family went through security just fine. I had to got through additional security checks, which was nice as I hadn’t had that in a few years and it was great to be reminded of what it felt like.

However, the additional security measure seemed a bit different this time. It appeared as if they were screening men of a certain age group. I saw Americans and Europeans, in addition to those nationalities that are regularly profiled.

US immigration was incredibly smooth as always. It’s truly remarkable to be able to clear customs in Abu Dhabi and walk straight to the luggage section on arrival in the US, then to the hotel with no interruptions. I hope that never changes, but in a weird way it had, slightly. You see everything on the flight went smoothly – the Etihad experience was incredible as always, and the in-flight entertainment system made my children forget that they did not have their iPads with them.

Then we landed. We came to the luggage belt only to be told that it would take a while for the bags to arrive due to additional security measures, and people who had to check in laptops separately could pick them up at a different counter. It took 40 minutes, and by that time the crowds from three different flights had gathered around the carousel. It was hectic and seemed unlike any customer experience I have had with my national airline and any of my experiences living in America.

I am a proud Emirati and I am proud of our national carriers and all they have achieved.

While the laptop ban did result in a drop in demand for flights to America operated by the UAE carriers, I will fly with my national airline through thick and thin.

The end of the laptop seemed to me like a reaffirmation of the strong relationship the UAE and the US enjoy. More importantly, Etihad can now do what it does best – provide the best service in the world in the smoothest and quickest way possible, which to me seems closer to American culture and values than anything else.

Now Khalifa can get back to swiping away on his iPad for another episode of Peppa Pig.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati columnist and social commentator. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two sons