Qatar Airways today announced that it intends to offer a free laptop rental service to any business class passenger traveling on a US-bound flight.
The move comes after American authorities banned passengers flying on certain airlines from specific destinations from carrying any electronic device larger than a smartphone in their hand luggage. The United Kingdom instituted their own ban shortly afterwards, although the British one doesn’t affect passengers flying on Qatar Airways.
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The laptops will be available to all Business Class passengers flying to the United States. It’s not clear what software will come pre-installed, or indeed, what laptops the airline intends to offer.
Promotional photos posted by Qatar Airways show what appears to be a 2015-model 15-inch MacBook Pro. Although it’s possible that was just whatever their marketing department had on hand, and passengers will ultimately end up using some variety of Windows PC, or perhaps a ChromeBook.
Qatar Airways also intends to offer passengers access to a USB memory stick before they board the flight, allowing them to copy over their files and documents that they’ll need to work on.
Unfortunately, those traveling in economy won’t benefit from this offer. That’s unlikely to be much of an issue for many, though. In my experience, it’s hard to be productive when traveling coach, even if you’re sitting in even the most spacious and comfortable economy seat.
This is a very shrewd move from Qatar Airways.
Business Class passengers are a huge profit center for airlines. They essentially subsidize the economy class cabin. But businesses are only willing to stump up for business class if their employees can be productive while airborne.
Therefore, the ban on large electronics introduced by the United States and UK massively diminishes the value proposition of business class travel.
This free laptop rental service will go some way to reversing that damage. It’ll also make it a more attractive option to its Gulf rivals – namely Etihad and Emirates. If someone is flying from East Asia or India to the United States, this may be the deciding factor that makes them choose Doha over Dubai.
Both Etihad and Emirates have devised their own responses to the ban. Emirates is allowing passengers to use their laptops until the last minute before they board the plane, while Etihad intends to offer free Wi-Fi and iPad to premium passengers.