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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Slump in travel to and from Qatar as thousands of airline bookings are cancelled

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5, imposed a travel ban and imposed a no-fly zone over their air space for Qatar-registered airlines and aircraft.
Above, a Qatar Airways plane lands at the Hamad international airport in Doha. Qatar Airways had built Doha into an international hub, competing with Dubai and Abu Dhabi for long-haul travel. Karim Jaafar / AFP
Above, a Qatar Airways plane lands at the Hamad international airport in Doha. Qatar Airways had built Doha into an international hub, competing with Dubai and Abu Dhabi for long-haul travel. Karim Jaafar / AFP

Airlines are cancelling a large number of passenger bookings to and from Qatar after four Arab countries severed diplomatic and economic links, endangering Doha’s hub status for international travel.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5, imposed a travel ban and imposed a no-fly zone over their air space for Qatar-registered airlines and aircraft.

“Last week, net bookings for all airlines flying in and out of Doha for global destinations swung to minus 23,000 as a wave of cancellations hit Qatar,” according to a spokesman for Travelport, the global travel commerce platform specialist.

“The biggest falls came for Qatar’s routes to and from Saudi Arabia, where net bookings slumped from 10,000 to minus 110,300, and the UAE, from 4,700 to minus 36,000,” he said.

The cancellations are for all dates, including forward bookings.

Arabian Gulf airlines, including Saudia, flydubai, Emirates, Air Arabia and Etihad, flew frequently to and from Doha before the ban. Rival Qatar Airways also had a number of flights heading to and from the four countries.

The travel ban has had a widespread impact on passenger demand, especially for Qatar Airways, and the longer it carries on, the worse it is expected to become for Gulf carriers, according to some analysts.

“For passengers, the ban has resulted in restricted travel choices and in many cases, people are cancelling travel plans altogether,” said Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research. “The impact of cancellations would be far greater for Qatar Airways than any other Arabian Gulf carrier because the Doha-based airline is banned from flying to several countries.”

Qatar Airways, which is part of the 15-member oneworld alliance, had built Doha into an international hub, competing with Dubai and Abu Dhabi for long-haul travel. The Doha-based carrier has amassed stakes in companies such as IAG, owner of British Airways, and Latam Airlines, Latin America’s largest carrier, to expand its global reach.

“[The ban] reflects on the region’s political tension and deters travellers using Gulf carriers overall,” said Peter Morris, the chief economist at Flight Ascend Consultancy in London. “Anything that reduces competition will result in higher prices and fewer passengers.”

As Qatar Airways is a connecting hub carrier, any reduction in major origins and destinations, such as Saudi Arabia, will have an impact on its whole network, he added.

“So South Asia routes to Doha would suffer if onward connections are reduced,” Mr Morris said.

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Updated: June 13, 2017 04:00 AM

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