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Hello from Doha, Qatar! Last week’s news of the ban on carry-on electronics came suddenly, giving airlines just 96 hours to implement procedures to eliminate large electronics from aircraft cabins for flights to the US. To get a real sense of how the carry-on electronics ban procedures have been unfolding and impacting passengers, my wife (and TPG contributor) Katie and I flew to the Middle East to experience it ourselves. If you’re flying from or through Doha (DOH) on Qatar Airways, here’s the current situation.

What To Expect

Qatar Airways is requesting that passengers who are flying from — or connecting through — Doha (DOH) to the US place their large electronics in their checked baggage at their origin. Large electronic devices are being defined as bigger than 16cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm:

Signs like this one at DOH check-in alert US-bound passengers of the new restrictions.

Signs are posted throughout DOH containing the following info:

Effective 24 March, 2017 in accordance with new United States government regulations, all passengers traveling on United States-bound flights are prohibited from carrying any electronic device(s) on board the flight in the cabin larger than 16cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm, with the exception of medical devices. Power banks or lithium batteries that are smaller than the size indicated above may also be carried in the cabin.

Qatar Airways passengers must turn off those electronic device(s) which exceed the above specifications, and secure them in their checked luggage. Prohibited devices include, but are not limited to, laptops, tablets, DVD players and electronic games larger than the size mentioned above.

The size is reportedly based on an iPhone 6 size, but if you’re not sure how large your electronics are — or aren’t familiar with the metric system — DOH check-in agents (at least) have printouts that you can use to measure your devices:

My Nexus 5X phone (with substantial case) barely fit in the required size.

In practice, check-in agents don’t seem to be concerned about the size of cell phones. It seems that any smartphone will be allowed on-board. However, it’s unclear if larger phone devices — such as satellite phones — will be allowed on-board.

There are multiple Seal & Go locations in the DOH terminal offering electronics packaging.

If you’re originating in Doha — or connecting through DOH long enough to collect and re-check your luggage — there are multiple Seal & Go locations outside immigration in the main terminal that have already adapted to the new rules, offering packaging services for “laptop / tablet / electronics.” For QR55 (US$15), they’ll box your electronics in boxes padded with bubble wrap. For prices starting at QR30 (US$8), Seal & Go will wrap your checked baggage.

Plastic-wrapping your checked bags can help indicate if your checked luggage was accessed.

Once through immigration and initial security checks, you and your electronics aren’t in the clear. At many DOH gates, there are secondary security checks before you can enter the boarding area. The intensity of these checks seems to depend on where you’re flying. At US-bound gates, you should expect a thorough check.

Your carry-on baggage must pass through a scanner while you’ll have to pass through a metal detector. While early reports indicated passengers were required to remove liquids and shoes for this scanning, the process has now evolved to where you get to leave your shoes on and leave your carry-on liquids in your bag. However, any large liquids that you might have purchased inside security are going to be tossed.

Even after passing through the metal detector, some US-bound passengers are being patted down — seemingly at random, at a rate of every other to every 1-in-3 passengers. And, if the bag scan reveals that your bag has a suspected large electronics device, the devices and your carry-on baggage will be thoroughly swabbed for explosives.

Some Electronics Are Allowed On-Board

This seems to be ever-evolving. As of this morning (March 26), the only electronics getting through the secondary security are cell phones (which security wasn’t testing for sizing) and electronic devices smaller than the stated dimensions. And it’s not just cameras and laptops that are being confiscated. This morning, I witnessed large headphones, tablets and a graphing calculator being pulled from passengers’ carry-on baggage on US-bound flights. Below are some of our observations on how this has evolved.

Saturday, March 25 (early morning): TPG reader Ryan N. connected through Doha (DOH) on his way back from Bangkok on Qatar. He had a pair of Bose QC35 wireless headphones and his girlfriend had a pair of Bose QC25 wired headphones. Here’s how he described their experience passing through gate-side security:

My girlfriend has the older wired QC25 version, and after going through the X-Ray the attendant had her take it out of her bag. At first she was told she couldn’t bring it on board, but then another agent said it was fine since it has a wire. I don’t know why that would make it fine, but whatever. Then she said I couldn’t bring mine on because it’s wireless; I showed her the optional wire you can plug in and she let it pass. The agents didn’t seem to have any idea whether the headphones were okay or not. They seemed pretty clueless as to the rules.

Saturday, March 25 (mid-morning): Katie observed the Qatar US departures from Doha. Passengers were being asked if they had “anything larger than an i[Phone] 6”. If larger devices were found, these devices needed to be packed into bags to be gate-checked.

Sunday, March 26 (mid-morning): The rules are starting to solidify. Security agents seem frustrated from having to deal with angry and confused passengers, without much guidance to point to for justifying removing certain electronics. Unlike yesterday, Qatar Airways is now confiscating any large headphones — even if they are wired — and any other electronics that exceed the dimensions. This includes items you might not suspect would be limited, like large calculators.

For better or worse, guitars aren’t being confiscated from carry-on bags.

One Atlanta-bound Qatar passenger brought his guitar for on-board entertainment.

Gate-Checking Electronics

Unlike Emirates, Qatar hasn’t publicized this procedure, but the airline is currently checking electronics at the gate. Officially, passengers are required to check large electronic devices into their checked baggage at check-in — either in Doha or at their origin. However, a Qatar agent explained that “not all airports have been briefed” on the new procedures. So for now, Qatar is accommodating these guests by checking electronics when discovered at gate-side security.

Passengers seem to be asked to check their large electronic devices in the bag that they were planning on bringing on board as a carry-on. However, for passengers that don’t want to part with their carry-on bag, Qatar Airways is providing boxes for gate-checking electronics. Whether packed in your bag or a Qatar-provided box, these ‘tainted’ bags are then bagged into large clear-plastic bags and loaded onto the aircraft:

Large electronic devices are being packed into passengers’ carry-on bags or boxed in Qatar-provided boxes and loaded onto the plane in plastic wrapping.

When I inquired where electronic devices will be claimed, DOH security officers seemed unsure of the claim process. One agent replied that it depended on the size of the electronics — without providing any further explanation. It’s unclear if gate-checked electronics will be available at the gate upon arrival or if they’ll be processed and returned to passengers at baggage claim.

Delays

Not surprisingly, due to the extra-careful security screenings, confusion and gate-checking, most US-bound Qatar flights have been departing from DOH late. So, make sure that you don’t schedule your arrival into the US too tightly.

Bottom Line

If you’re flying Qatar Airways, make sure to pack your large electronics — yes, even your noise-cancelling headphones — in checked luggage and get ready to be patient. Qatar Airways seems to be trying to fully comply with the large carry-on electronics ban, even if that means being a bit aggressive about denying items such as headphones and large calculators in addition to the listed items. Thankfully, Qatar Airways is providing boxes to gate-check these large devices — at least for now.

Have you flown through DOH since the ban was implemented? Share your experience in the comments below.

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