Laptop Ban, Dyspeptic Paraphenaliaitis & Moleskin Notebooks

Palm Visor by Handspring.  Useful in creating business plans at 36000 feet when laptops are prohibited. 

We’ve had sparking shoes and smoking underwear.  There’s the the case of the al Shabaab blunder where a passenger on board an airline which took off from Mogadishu set off the laptop bomb he’d apparently smuggled aboard and proceeded to blow himself out of the fuselage. The score at the end of that terror match:

al Shabaab 0 – World Airlines United 1.

Luckily for the pax and crew the plane continued flying and made an emergency landing.

The latest ban on laptops and tablets on carry-on bags comes after reports from the US and UK intelligence that ISIS has figured out how to make a bomb look like an iPad. The problem is that if you stuff such a device in baggage destined for the hold,  its going to have the same effect as carry-on.

Kabloojeee!  Flight down.

Starting from Saturday March 25th, pax from eight countries who are using electronic devices bigger than a smartphone must dump them in the hold.  I live in South Africa,  which means I’m not affected unless I fly via Dubai and decide to stop off instead of heading to the transit lounge.  Also,  attrition in our local airports means only a maniac would think of putting their trusty laptop in a bag destined to be handled by OR Tambo baggageers.

I’ve heard some noise from business men and women complaining that they won’t be “productive” for the lengthy flights.  Well I’m very sorry,  but its either work on a notepad with a pencil or be deposited in some ocean in mince-meat sized pieces.  If you believe the surveillance folks who have got wind of some ISIS plan.

Then there’s the conspiracy theory that the UK and US have done this to protect their own carriers from Middle Eastern competitors.  Largely because the UK added Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways but left out the UAE and Qatar,  but the US included the latter in their ban.   These airlines are directly funded by their governments and are therefore competing with United or British Airways unfairly.  Therefore the hapless half-math theory goes that the Brits and Yanks are now offering a form of Trump/Bannon type protectionism to their financially strapped airlines by banning airlines from 10 mainly Muslim countries from allowing passengers on board with anything bigger than a smartphone.

I find this line of thinking peculiar and an unsatisfactory conspiracy conjecture but let’s see what happens next.  I’ve already investigated sending my laptop through DHL or UPS and it’s a reasonable fee if you consider the space then available to avoid using the hold altogether.   I flew to Denver and San Francisco in 2016 for a two week business trip using just a carry on bag, using local laundries to keep things clean and ignored my laptop.

  • Firstly,  if you’re really married to your laptop,  send it via DHL and have it delivered on a specific day or time to a place and collect.  Bill the client.
  • Secondly,  if people leave their laptops behind,  the queues at security will speed up.  Every time someone yanks a laptop out of their bag and deposits it in a plastic try,  it slows down the entire clearance operation.
  • Thirdly,  get the client to provide a device and use the cloud.
  • Fourthly, do NOT under any circumstance,  place the laptop or tablet in your luggage.  Only a fool would do that.  It’s going to be stolen.
  • Fifthly,  buy a small foldable typing pad for your phone and use it instead if you really have to take notes.   Like a Palm pilot.  Remember those?  I once wrote an entire business plan for my company using a Palm pilot on a trip from JFK in New York to Johannesburg.  Necessity you know.  It was smaller than my iPhone.

Bans are nothing new.  Last year ICAO prohibited shipments of lithium ion batteries on passenger planes and the Samsung Galaxy 7 was a shattering flaming failure and ordered off all flights like a drunken Moscow football yob on his way to a game against Borussia Dortmund.

I’m expecting Emirates et al to offset this apparent blarney from the US and UK by offering passengers laptops for rent or use.  Business class passengers get them free.  Or perhaps the new cabins of the future will have keypads and operating systems built into the trays and entertainment systems.  Save us all the trouble of lugging these bloody things on and off,  and offer various excuses not to work while indulging in the delight of world aviation. Hey, you’re at 36000 feet,  sit back,  drink a glass of good red wine, read a book, think.


Boot up your moleskin notebook and whip out the trusty pencil.  When Russian cosmonauts went into space in the sixties they used pencils and paper.  What’s the big deal about laptops anyway?

Boot up the trusty Moleskin. 

In the interests of proper data and accuracy,  here is the list of all airports affected by the laptop and tablet ban.

  • Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan
  • Cairo International Airport, Egypt
  • Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  • King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport
  • Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco
  • Hamad International, Doha, Qatar
  • Dubai International, United Arab Emirates
  • Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates

The ban will also include DVD players, Nintendo and other game hardware and cameras which upsets me as I’m a multimedia manager.  Ah well,  won’t be stopping in Dubai overnight every again – or until the laptop et al ban is lifted.  Who cares?  There’s always Heathrow and Frankfurt which have other advantages to Dubai with its utterly crass commercial wilderness and dyspeptic paraphenaliaitis.







Alexandria Airport Fear & Loathing

I passed through Bourj Al Arab Airport near Alexandria on Friday 8th April and experienced the full frontal assault of a seriously secure facility.  No-one allowed through the main doors except for travellers.  Five layers of security.  Fear and loathing permeated the building, darkened by sand blown in by southerly winds from the Sahara.  It was 40 degrees and the passengers alongside me were generally friendly.  They were also resigned to their slow moving fate.  Hijabs and Nuns habits, little kids running about playing with torches and plastic trucks.  It was the sabbath so families permeated,  along with a religious tour heading to Dubai on FZ 172 from HBE to DXB.  On board a 737 run by FlyDubai.  One of their planes crashed last month in Russia killing all on board.  I was not that happy to be flying FlyDubai.

Bourj Al Arab airport, an hours drive South West of Alexandria, Egypt.

Then things got worse.  I carry a special pen that allows me to record audio and video which passed through security check point one.  Then security check point two, with full bells and whistles, shoes off,  and a rather invasive thigh to crotch search by a somewhat enthusiastic moustached policeman.  Then up the escalators to Security Check point 3.   A slumped uniform beckoned me over.  Generally I take off my jacket and place it in the plastic tray along with my laptop.  But uniform had decided there was something suspicious about my pen.

The Pen that caused the trouble in Egypt

He shouted “You, come here, come here” so I knew there was a problem. He was on his mobile. Within a few minutes an uniformed cop arrived and prodded my pen.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a dictaphone”  I said.

“Show me”

I showed him how the pen wrote and the USB under the screw off metal case.  He seemed unconvinced.  At this point my wife who was watching from beyond the X-ray machine moved away.  I was aware that things were going downhill rapidly.  Mr Plain Clothed whipped out his mobile and spoke at length to what appeared to be a senior security officer.

“No, ok, you wait” uniformed said to my wife,  who ignored him and walked to the toilet.  I had memorised my Egyptian contacts number in case of problems and was ready to ask for a phone call when the plain clothed cop told me to follow him.  He took my passport and boarding pass, handed it to customs and we took a lift downstairs.

I was in real trouble.  With a recent flight full of Russian tourists blown out of the sky and an FlyDubai aircraft crash at Rostov-on-Don,  I had entered the contract to head off to Alexandria with a few misgivings.  These were now appearing to come true.  Worsened by the MetroJet flight blown up in the Sinai in November, killing all 225 on board.

The security manager looked up as we approached.

“What is this?” he asked.

“My business dictaphone, look I switch it on here and that means I don’t have to use my hands – I just stick it in my pocket.”

“Ok, no problem – come with me”

He walked away from the police and then said

“Put it away, you can’t take that on board, but if you leave it in your pocket its fine.”

And with that relief flooded through my body.  I had spent 5 days in Alexandria and saw fewer than 30 tourists in total,  including the ever present Chinese.  The paranoia following the Russian plane disaster had kicked in,  along with the muslim brotherhood which has threatened to kill visitors.  Egypt is in the throes of political instability and I’d finally run slap bang into the sentiment.   But things were not over yet.

Empty tables in Alexandria.

I had to pass through two more security checks – one included a bag search.  Success, the pen passed the test and just before we entered the final gangway to our flight, a fifth check of passengers over an above the usual passport/ticket confirmation.   In a strange way all this made me feel much better about taking a plane out of Egypt.   Surely they’d find a smoking shoe or a couple of grams of explosive if they were so careful about my pen.

Luckily the flight had been delayed by an hour because so had I.  Eventually we took off at 19h15 and made it to Dubai unscathed.  But I won’t be taking FlyDubai in a rush in the future.  Four hour flight and if you wanted any form of entertainment or food and drink it was purchase only.  Not even water was provided which I thought was counter to IATA rules.  But more about FlyDubai next time.