Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives have followed Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in cutting ties with Doha on Monday, June 5, accusing it of supporting extremist groups and destabilising the region.
The seven countries almost immediately closed their borders to Qatar and put into place restrictions on both trade and travel, including a suspension of flights between these countries and Qatar, on any airline, as well as a ban on Qatar Airways’ use of airspace belonging to the countries.
A direct result of this diplomatic crisis is a confusing situation for travellers, who face potentially cancelled or delayed flights, and slightly longer flights for the many routes still in operation as Qatar Airways is forced to fly around airspace from which they are banned.
A non-stop journey on Qatar Airways from Doha to Auckland, New Zealand, typically 16 hours from take-off to landing. With the new diversion over Iran to avoid the UAE’s airspace, the flight may see an extra 15 minutes added.
Travellers holding tickets on Qatar Airways or any airline with connections in the Middle East region should familiarise themselves with the latest on the situation, as new clarifications and rulings continue to come.
Anyone flying any airline between Doha and destinations in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives will find these flights have been cancelled and they should contact their airlines for refunds and rebooking.
There have been reports of Qatar Airways mounting charter relief flights via Kuwait or Oman, but as all Qatari citizens have been ordered to leave Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain within two weeks, airlifts are likely to focus on helping expelled Qataris.
Travellers with itineraries that pass through Doha but do not begin or end in one of the countries banning Qatar Airways will find their flights only slightly affected by the ban, owing to the restrictions on air routes and longer flight times, but will not face mass cancellations and should proceed with travel plans as normal.
A passenger speaking about her Tuesday flight from Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to Doha, she said: I basically had the plane to myself. I was urged not to go but I didn't run into any issues.
A passenger from Brussels was forced to re-arrange his plans for his Maldives holiday, instead moving his booking to fly to Bangkok instead.
I’m hoping to buy a Bangkok Airways flight to make it to Malé, but I really don’t want to think about getting home just yet, he says from his Doha layover yesterday.
I’ll see what it is like in the Maldives and hope for better news while I’m away, but I will read the fine print of my travel insurance just in case.
A passenger from Sri Lanka booked to fly with Qatar Airways to London via Doha said I'm anxious because i don't know what’s going on, she said. I've been abroad for five months and I usually live in a local home-stay with very limited wifi access. Also there is just a stigma about the Middle East. It’s somewhere I've never travelled and so it’s unfamiliar.
Travellers are right to be cautious, especially if their current or future travel plans involve visiting the United Arab Emirates, as even social media mentions of support for Qatar could face retaliation.
UAE’s Attorney General has threatened offenders with jail terms up to 15 years and $136,000 fines, so perhaps it’s wise to keep any praise of Qatar Airways or your Doha layover off of Twitter or Facebook.
It’s a situation that’s even breeding uncertainty in travellers with no upcoming plans, such as one woman who visited Doha last month through the airline’s complimentary stopover program.
This is all really intense, she says. I'm almost out of pages on my passport so all this makes me want to get my new one earlier and really start from scratch and consider my routes.
Qatar Airways has a good product. Politics aside, the ban forces my hand to not book with them. There's too much unpredictability with them and the rest of the world given the current state of things.
Unpredictable is the best way to describe the current situation. Ongoing efforts by diplomats in mediating countries like Kuwait and Turkey may prove successful and restore travel, or they may fail.
In any case, there is no certainty as to when the travel restrictions around Qatar will be lifted and to what extent. The best precaution travellers can make regarding upcoming plans is to stay informed, as well as being ready and willing to make alternate travel plans.
Tourism Observer will keep you updated daily.