Browsing 'travel' News

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

With reporting from Victoria Scott

At least six Gulf-based airlines have announced that they will stop flying to and from Qatar following a diplomatic dispute.

The move will affect the travel plans of thousands of Qatar residents, as well as those passengers who have plans to travel to or through Qatar in the coming days.

Among the airlines are four UAE carriers.

HIA

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Dubai-based Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, Air Arabia and the low-cost airline Fly Dubai all confirmed this morning that they will cease routes to Doha from tomorrow (June 6) until further notice.

Saudi’s Jeddah-based national flag carrier Saudia also joined, announcing in Arabic on Twitter this morning that it too is stopping flights to Qatar.

This afternoon, Bahrain’s flag carrier Gulf Air added to the group, announcing on its website that the last of its multiple daily flights from Doha to Manama would be at 8:55pm local time (Bahrain to Qatar) while the final one departing Doha would leave at 10:40pm Qatar time.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s national flag carrier Qatar Airways said it would halt flying to Saudi Arabia at least for today.

These announcements come as the Saudi Arabian Civil Aviation Authority ordered a ban on all Qatar aircraft landing at airports in the Kingdom with immediate effect, state news agency SPA reported.

UAE airlines

Posting on its website today, Emirates said:

“As instructed by the UAE government, Emirates will suspend its flights to and from Doha, starting from the morning of 6 June 2017, until further notice.

The last flight from Dubai to Doha will depart as EK847 at 02:30am on 6 June. The last flight from Doha to Dubai will depart as EK848 at 03:50am on 6 June.”

Customers booked on Emirates’ flights to and from Doha will be provided with alternative options.

These include full refunds on unused tickets and free re-booking to the nearest alternate Emirates destinations, it added.

Clément Alloing/Flickr

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It advised all passengers bound for Doha to make alternative arrangements.

Etihad Airways made a similar announcement on its website, confirming that the last flights from Abu Dhabi to Doha will be flight EY391 which will depart at 9:35pm UAE time.

Flight EY398 will be the last Abu Dhabi-bound one, leaving Qatar just before 11pm tonight.

And budget carrier Fly Dubai also confirmed today it would suspend  its operations to Doha from tomorrow.

On its Facebook page, it said the last flight out of Doha, heading to Dubai, would be leave Hamad International Airport at 10:40pm.

“Qatar Airways has suspended all flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia until 23:59 UTC on 05th June (02:59 Doha Time on 6th June). Please check this page regularly for further flight updates.”

For its part, Air Arabia said it would cease flights from Sharjah to Doha starting tomorrow, Reuters reported.

The airline’s last flight from Sharjah to Doha will depart at 6:30pm local time today, while the last inbound flight from Doha to Sharjah will depart at 7:25pm local time, the newswire said.

Qatar Airways silent

Meanwhile, aside from a short statement on its website about halting flights to Saudi Arabia, Qatar Airways has not commented on how its other routes will be affected.

But Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have both said they will close their airspace to flights from Qatar.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

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This will significantly impact Qatar Airways, which will be forced to route its flights around the closures.

Bahraini airspace is large, running almost up to Kuwait to the north, the UAE to the east and Saudi to the south and west.

When the UAE also closes its airspace to Qatari flights, the airline will have to route most flights from Doha via Iran. This will lead to significant detours for many flights.

Have your travel plans been affected by this Gulf row? Thoughts?

MOI

Egate service

E-gate services in Qatar were used some 865,000 times in the first three months of this year, officials have announced.

That’s compared to about a million usages in all of 2016, when e-gate used to cost an annual fee and require prior registration.

The numbers reflect a tremendous increase in demand since the service, which fast-tracks residents through immigration, was made free and available to most expats in December.

Officials are now urging Qatar residents to use the service when possible to speed up processing at the airport.

Expansion

The aim is to triple e-gate usage by the end of 2017 to some 3.5 million passengers, said Col. Mohammed Rashid Al Mazrouei, Director of Airport Passports Department.

Currently, there are 21 e-gates at departures, and 20 at arrivals. Each will be increased to 40 in the coming months, he said in a statement this week.

Jiseon Shin/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

To use the service, travelers should head to an electronic gate and present their Qatar IDs or passports. After passing through the first gate, they then offer a fingerprint or iris scan and then leave immigration.

The process usually takes about 10 seconds, the Ministry of Interior said.

It added that anyone who has trouble using the service can log biometric data like an iris or fingerprint scan at kiosks set up at HIA.

MOI

E-gate service

Free e-gate is part of larger efforts to automate most travel services within the airport, from bag weighing to boarding pass printing to boarding the aircraft.

The move should help with wait times, as well as reduce costs for operators.

HIA opened in 2014, but due to the rapid expansion of Qatar Airways has seen a surge in transit passengers and is already operating beyond capacity.

Do you use e-gate? Thoughts?

Reem Saad / Doha News

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Qatar has once again been ranked among the top 10 most popular tourist destinations for Muslims around the world, according to a new report.

However, it dropped one place in this year’s Global Muslim Travel Index, switching with Saudi Arabia, where Muslims flock to perform umrah.

The index is compiled by Islamic travel company Crescentrating and credit card firm MasterCard.

Doha News

A RAF prayer rug on Doha’s Corniche

This year, they ranked 130 countries based on factors such as ease of travel for Muslims, access to halal restaurants and the provision of prayer rooms in airports, shopping malls and hotels.

Qatar was sixth out of 48 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states.

For the seventh year in a row, Malaysia took the top spot in 2017. The UAE came in second place, Indonesia in third and Turkey in fourth.

Meanwhile, Singapore topped a separate list of non-majority Muslim countries, followed by Thailand and the UK.

How Qatar scored

Despite slipping in the rankings, Qatar’s score has not changed much from last year.

Omar Chatriwala

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In many areas, its numbers remained either the same or went up:

  • Prayer space access (100 in 2017 and 2016) and airport services (100 in 2017 and 2016);
  • Air connectivity (93 in 2017, 87.7 in 2016);
  • Halal dining options (90 in 2017 and 2016); and
  • Safe travel (90 in 2017 and 2016)

However, its already low score in the Muslim Visitors category dropped further, from 15.7 in 2016 to 14.3 this year.

This section calculates the percentage of Muslim visitors to Qatar.

The nation also continued to score poorly (26.2 in both 2017 and 2016) when it came to “Awareness and Reach Out.”

arwcheek / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This category includes factors such as the availability of Muslim visitor guides, destination marketing targeted at Muslim travelers and what percentage of the population is Muslim in the country in question.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia did manage to improve its scores in several areas in the past year. This included in terms of Air Connectivity (81 in 2017; 69.5 in 2016) and in Awareness and Reach Out (37.5 in 2017; 31.2 in 2016.)

Conflicting reports

Qatar has been struggling to boost its tourism numbers in the last year, though Muslims do account for a big portion of their visitors.

In addition to CrescentRating, Qatar has fared well on other recent tourism indexes, in part because it is safe and stable in a region that is not.

Last month for example, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said Qatar has the second most competitive economy in the Middle East when it comes to travel and tourism.

Jameel Riaz/Flickr

The Museum of Islamic Art

And travel website Frommer’s has recently listed Doha as one of its top global destinations for 2017. It highlighted Qatar’s luxury hotels, its Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif as things to check out.

But others have less positive things to say. Last year, Condé Nast Traveler listed Qatar as one of the world’s most unfriendliest destinations for tourists.

The designation came from a readers’ survey, which included complaints about the traffic and “rude” people in Doha.

Here’s the full CrescentRating report. Thoughts?