Qatar Airways' flights are getting a lot shorter
Tensions in the Gulf are easing as we enter the new year.
The latest comes as a new formal agreement between Qatar and several of its regional neighbors ended the 3.5-year blockade of the country.
On Thursday, the first Qatar Airways flight to overfly Saudi Arabia in over three years took to the skies.
Qatar Flight 1365, operated by an Airbus A350-900, departed Doha at 9:13 p.m. local time, en route to Johannesburg via Saudi Arabia airspace. Flying via the Kingdom will shave off roughly an hour from the previous roundabout routing over the Arabian Sea.
An agreement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to reopen air and land borders between the two countries was first reported Monday and was formalized Tuesday, per Bloomberg News. Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — which also had joined the initial boycott of Qatar — also agreed to restore diplomatic ties with the nation, according to NBC News.
This is big news for Qatar Airways and its passengers.
Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter for more airline-specific news!
Since mid-2017, all direct flights from those nations to Qatar were cut and all Qatari-registered aircraft were banned from overflying its new regional foes.
For Qatar Airways, this has added significant amount of time to many flights. Without permission to fly over Saudi Arabia, Qatar Airways has been forced to take circuitous routes, burning unnecessary fuel and wasting passengers' time.
With the new agreement, Qatar can expect to restore direct point-to-point flying across its expansive route network. It remains to be seen if and when nonstop flights to Qatar will resume from Saudi Arabia and its allies.
But to underscore the impact of the boycott, take a look at Monday's Qatar Flight 1427 from Doha to Addis Ababa. As the crow flies, the Boeing 777 would normally fly over Saudi Arabia to get to Ethiopia.
However, due to the blockade that was still in place then, the jet's circuitous route took it out into the Persian Gulf, around the UAE, and then over Oman before making a beeline for Addis Ababa.
Back in 2016, Cirium schedules show that Qatar blocked 260 minutes, or just over four hours, for its Addis Ababa flights. On Monday, Qatar blocked over five hours for the 1,402-mile flight — adding nearly a full hour of flying simply due to the blockade.
In December, I flew on Qatar's inaugural flight to San Francisco. Before heading to Doha, I was spending a night in Dubai — which made for an eight-hour journey to get between the two countries.
Without any nonstop flights, I was forced to connect in Amman, Jordan. Aside from the significant backtracking, the Qatar Airways flight from Amman to Doha took a detour over Iraq to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia.
More: The 235-mile journey from Dubai and Doha that took over 8 hours
Now, for flyers' sakes, it appears the diplomatic spat is nearing its end.
Editor's note: This post has been updated with news of Qatar's first flight to ovefly Saudi Arabia.