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Flights Between Major Middle East Countries Suspended

June 05, 2017
6 min read
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Update 6/5/17 8:05am: The UAE’s official news agency has said that there will be a "closure of UAE airspace and seaports for all Qataris in 24 hours [from Monday morning] and a banning of all Qatari means of transportation, coming to or leaving the UAE, from crossing, entering or leaving the UAE territories." This suggests Qatar Airways will be banned from flying in and out of the UAE. Flights to other destinations in the region could be suspended as well.

In stunning news overnight, an alliance of countries have severed diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recalled their diplomatic staff and pledged early Monday morning local time to shut down all air, ground and sea routes with the small peninsular nation. The island national of The Maldives has decided to cut ties as well, as have Libya and Yemen.

Why Is This Happening?

These countries are claiming that Qatar is supporting terrorist groups. In a released statement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia blames "grave violations being committed by the authorities in Doha," including:

adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, promoting the ethics and plans of these groups through its media permanently, supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the governorate of Qatif of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Bahrain, financing, adopting and sheltering extremists who seek to undermine the stability and unity of the homeland at home and abroad, and using the media that seek to fuel the strife internally

This major diplomatic rift between these countries could have massive implications. The tiny peninsular nation of Qatar relies heavily on supplies from the mainland, from which reportedly 40% of Qatar's food arrives by truck.

As of Monday afternoon local time, reports are already surfacing of food shipments being prevented from crossing the Saudi Arabian border into Qatar. It's unclear how quickly this might cause humanitarian issues in Qatar.

Suspended Flights

Most flights between Qatar and the allied countries are ending tonight local time. By Monday night US time, all flights will be suspended:

Etihad: Etihad is suspending all flights to Doha beginning this evening. The last flight from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Doha (DOH) is 9:35pm local time (1:35pm Eastern) and the last flight from DOH-AUH is 10:50pm local time (2:50pm Eastern). Both flights have been "upgraded to a Boeing 777" to handle the increase in passengers. Passengers with Etihad flights to DOH are being offered "full refunds on unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternate Etihad Airways destinations."

Emirates: Emirates is suspending all flights to Doha beginning Tuesday, June 6. The last flight from Dubai (DXB) to Doha (DOH) will be EK847 at 2:30am local time (6:30pm Eastern), with the last return flight from DOH-DXB EK848 departing at 3:50am local time (7:50pm Eastern). Similarly, passengers with Emirates flights booked to DOH are being offered "full refunds on unused tickets and rebooking to the nearest alternate Emirates destinations."

FlyDubai: Low-cost carrier FlyDubai is following suit, suspending all flights between Dubai (DXB/DWC) and Doha (DOH) starting June 6. The final flight between the two cities will be FZ20 departing DOH for DXB at 10:40pm local (2:40pm Eastern).

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Gulf Air: Bahrain's national carrier will suspend flights as of 11:59 local time tonight, June 5, 2017. The last Gulf Air flight between the two cities, GF531, will depart Doha (DOH) at 10:40pm.

Qatar: In response, Qatar Airways is simply announcing the suspension of all flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia starting at 2:59am local time on June 6. Passengers with existing flights booked are being directed to "call +974 4023 0072 or contact your nearest Qatar Airways office:"

Saudia: While a notice hasn't been released on its website, SAUDIA has tweeted that all flights will be suspended to and from Qatar starting Tuesday morning:

Air Arabia has also reportedly announced the suspension of flights between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

As of writing, flights between Qatar and Bahrain (operated by Qatar Airways), Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (operated by Qatar), Qatar and Egypt (operated by EgyptAir and Qatar) haven't yet been suspended.

Other Impacts on Air Travel

Currently, the airspace over United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt hasn't yet been shutdown for Qatar Airways aircraft. As of writing, Qatar flights are still traveling above all three countries.

FlightAware's map of Qatar Airways flights shows Qatar flights over all three of the large countries who cut diplomatic ties with it early Monday morning.
FlightAware's map of Qatar Airways flights shows Qatar flights over all three of the large countries who cut diplomatic ties with it early Monday morning.

However, once most airspace surrounding Qatar is shut down — likely Tuesday morning local time — Qatar flights will be forced to fly over Iran, Turkey and potentially Iraq. One reporter draws this rough map of how flights might have to be routed:

More broadly though, this could ultimately have an impact on all flights. With the news of major diplomatic fights between significant oil-producing countries, the price of oil jumped. However, now that the market has considered the news, the price has actually fallen from previous rates.

With this severance of diplomatic ties, Qatar could rather easily decide not to stick to its Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quotas — flooding the market with more oil and driving prices down further.

Bottom Line

If you have intra-Middle East travel including Qatar in your plans, be prepared to select alternate flights. If you're booked to fly Qatar Airways anytime soon, prepare for the flight to take longer as Qatar air traffic is forced to take a longer route.

If you want to fly a top Middle Eastern carrier to visit Qatar anytime soon, your only option is via Qatar Airways — as you won't be able to connect through Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

Featured image by Getty Images