How to survive the US and UK ban on smart devices with your kids

It has been reported in the news that terrorists are now able to develop hard-to-detect bombs that can be housed in smart devices. On 25 March this prompted the US Department of Homeland Security to further tighten travel regulations pertaining to 10 airports (mostly within the Middle East). The UK followed suit but listed only six countries that include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey. Up to 14 airlines are affected as they fly through these routes. This restriction is currently in place indefinitely or until new safety regulations can ascertain any dangers of bombs within devices that are brought into flight cabins. Click here to see a full list of airports and countries where the affected flights are coming from.

What it means
If you’re flying to the US or the UK and transit at any of the above-listed airports and countries, you will not, I repeat, not, be able to bring any of the following on board the plane:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • E-readers
  • Cameras
  • Portable DVD players
  • Electronic game units larger than a smartphone
  • Travel printers and/or scanners

This may sound great on the security front. But it’s a big boo for productivity and flight entertainment. Business travellers who get most of their work done in between meals on long-haul flights are less productive as laptops need to be checked in. Avid readers are not allowed Kindles, DSLR cameras need to be checked in (and insured) and, finally, parents will not be allowed to bring their iPads, tablets or portable DVD players on board.

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How airlines are helping
Some airlines have immediately countered this for their business travellers and now provide a ‘hold’ service where all the above-listed electronic devices are held until you arrive at your destination.

Emirates, whose fleet base, Dubai International Airport, is one of the affected airports has even gone a step further. You can use your device until you are at the boarding gate, after which Emirates provides a service to pack these devices in a box and delivered to the US on the same flight – you even get it before your baggage lands on the carousel and there’s no additional baggage charge. Click here to see how Emirates is helping passengers with their devices.

Turkish Airways has also implemented this service to ease passenger anxiety. While there are cons with this service such as data theft and mishandling, it’s currently the only way. Click here to see how Turkish Airways is helping passengers with their devices.

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What this really means
As a former full-time working mum, this is disruptive if you work in-flight between meals, catching shut-eye and movies. I used to fly the Atlantic route from Singapore to Seattle and going through Dubai was a safeguard as the connecting flights into US via the Pacific route were short and risky transits. The 20-hour flight meant I could catch up on unfinished work or prep ahead for key meetings. Now, this will become 20 hours of being unproductive.

For parents, this is an absolute nightmare. No iPads, Gameboys or even portable DVD players. If you travel with young children between the ages of zero to 12 (or even 15), this could mean endless hours of you being the entertainment or apologising to neighbouring passengers. Or both.

Creative entertainment – back to the old school
So if you’re headed the way of the US or the UK through any of the listed Middle East airports affected, you’ll need to get creative.

Airplane kids’ kits
Most airlines will provide your child a kit of fun – full of colouring, puzzles, notebooks and possibly (blunt) stationery and crayons. Use them. Especially if you have children in pre-school, such games and kits are designed to pique their interest. I particularly liked the ones on Emirates (it’s a full Crayola satchel with drawing kits and a kiddy blanket) and Singapore Airlines (Frozen everything for girls – I have two daughters).

Rekindle your love for hard copy
I highly recommend this as your child may be able to appreciate actual books in hand – or at least they’ll have to, for the duration of the flight. Maybe instead of the 10-minute Peppa Pig cartoon, you could read the book and lengthen it to 30 minutes.

Older children should be encouraged to bring on board their own book or two. Fast readers can consider two to three books to stay occupied.

Board games and puzzles
Don’t you just love playing Scrabble? Well, now you’d have to rely on your personal word bank (read: brain) to come up with creative words during the long flight. I’ve also found hardcopy books of word search and puzzles to be useful. All it needs is a pencil and your child is off. Your back, that is.

Face the screen
If you are on a flight that has the luxury of individual screens on headrests, then the above don’t apply as each in-flight entertainment unit can provide hours (if not a day’s worth) of entertainment. Just make sure your child occasionally takes his or her eyes off the screen for some downtime. I don’t think we can send Donald Trump the bill for myopia in our Singapore kids. Sad!

If all else fails…
There’s always the handy cough and cold mixture. Before you judge, there are real benefits. I generally use this as a preventative measure – especially if I’m doing a red-eye on a popular flight. No one wants to travel with kids who caught something on the flight to the holiday. Once our bags are checked in, a small dose of antihistamines or cough syrup ensures my kids are asleep after the first in-flight meal is served. That’s easily two to three hours down. And if they wake up after, go back to number one and work through until you get to your destination.

Final word
Avoid airlines and routes that are affected. There are other ways to travel to the US and the UK. Singapore Airlines operates direct flights to both the US and the UK while British Airways operates direct flights to the UK. Other European airlines such as KLM, Swissair, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and Finnair are also options as they transit elsewhere in Europe. Thai Airways flies to both the US and the UK via Bangkok.

Or if none of this appeals to you, and if you can help it, simply don’t travel to the US or the UK. Until this electronics ban is lifted anyway.

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