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Weary flyers shrug as Middle East laptop ban takes off

More than one million passengers flying from Dubai are among those expected to be affected by the laptop ban in its first weekend
Airline Emirates began implementing a ban on laptops and tablets on direct flights to the US on Saturday (AFP)

A controversial ban on carry-on laptops and tablets on flights from the Middle East to the United States and Britain went into effect Saturday - with less fanfare and frustration than expected.

From Dubai to Doha, passengers on dozens of flights checked in their electronic devices, many shrugging off the measure as yet another inconvenience of global travel. 

"It's a rule. I follow the rules," said Rakan Mohammed, a Qatari national who flies from Doha to the US two to three times a year. 

"The bigger problem for my family is the no smoking. On a long flight, they become restless after three hours." 

At Dubai International, one of the world's busiest hubs, flag carrier Emirates dispatched staff to guide passengers through one of the most intense travel weekends of the year.

Around 1.1 million people are expected to pass through as the city marks UAE spring break, Dubai Airports said. 

An estimated 260,000 travellers were expected each day from Friday through Monday. Dubai International Airport expects 89 million passengers this year. 

Staff in red suits could be seen at the airport Saturday carrying signs explaining the electronics ban, ready to appease travellers with games and activities for children. 

Government-owned Emirates, which operates 18 direct flights to the US daily, also began a service to enable passengers to use their electronic devices after check-in and until boarding.

Samuel Porter, who was travelling out of Dubai with his family, nonetheless decided to "avoid delays" at the airport by putting his laptop in the hold.

"The only issue is the kids. I have two kids and the iPad is always in their hands. Maybe they will watch a documentary and learn something useful this time", he told AFP.

The United States this week announced a ban on all electronics larger than a standard smartphone on board direct flights out of eight countries across the Middle East. US officials would not specify how long the ban will last, but Emirates told AFP that it had been instructed to enforce the measures until at least October 14.

The ban covers electronics sold at Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths told local radio earlier this week. 

Further disruption

Adding to the disruption on Saturday, a number of flights out of Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports were delayed due to thunderstorms, including an Emirates flight to Houston. 

Travellers using 10 airports across the Middle East and North Africa are subject to the ban. 

Britain has also announced a parallel electronics ban, effective Saturday, targeting all flights out of Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon.

Royal Jordanian, which operates direct flights to London, New York, Detroit and Chicago, poked fun at the ban with a number of social media posts suggesting alternative in-flight activities, including doing "what we Jordanians do best... stare at each other!" 

The bans have come under criticism for targeting majority-Muslim countries. The US ban in particular has raised eyebrows for covering airports from which US airlines do not operate direct flights. 

But the United States and Britain have cited intelligence indicating passenger jets could be targeted with explosives planted in such devices.

Turkish airports began enforcing the ban Saturday, with national carrier Turkish Airlines offering a similar laptop stowage service to Emirates. 

Abu Dhabi, home to UAE national carrier Etihad Airways, is one of the few international airports with a US Customs and Border Protection Facility, which processes immigration and customs inspections before departure. 

But those flying to the US from Abu Dhabi will still need to check in their electronics, Etihad said.

Lapton ban 'likely' to expand to Europe

Meanwhile, a ban on laptops and other electronics in the cabin of flights from Europe to America will likely be further expanded to include additional countries, a US official said on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security sparked deep concern in Europe last week when it said it would soon decide on extending the ban to European airlines.

It is "likely that the restrictions that were put in place in March could be expanded to other areas," Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said.

"But not solely Europe -- extended to additional areas," he added, without giving details.

DHS Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke is due to attend high-level talks with European partners in Brussels on Wednesday.

Lapan said talks would consider the "scale and scope" of what the laptop ban might entail.

A US ban on now ubiquitous laptops could cause havoc, with more than 3,250 flights a week scheduled to leave EU airports for the US this summer, according to industry data.

Some experts also say there is a security risk in putting them with checked luggage given the danger of their batteries catching fire.