Several Gulf Countries Cut Ties With Qatar, Expect Massive Flight Disruptions

Filed Under: Emirates, Etihad

It’s being reported that six Arab countries have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing them of destabilizing the region by backing militant groups including the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda. Qatar denies these accusations, but that’s not stopping several neighboring countries from cutting ties with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia put out a statement that set this whole thing in motion, in which they accuse Qatar of supporting “Iranian-backed terrorist groups.” As a result, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Egypt, the Maldives, Yemen, and Libya, have all cut ties with Qatar. While there has been tension in the region, I think it’s safe to say that this escalated a lot more quickly than most of us expected it to.

Flights from Doha to several countries are being cut

This isn’t a political blog, so let’s get to the part about this impacting travel. This will have massive implications for airlines. The BBC is reporting:

  • The UAE has given Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the country
  • Airlines from many of the affected countries, including Etihad Airways and Emirates, said they are to cancel flights to and from the Qatari capital Doha
  • The Gulf allies said they had closed their airspace to Qatar Airways, which has suspended all its flights to Saudi Arabia

Saudia 777

This means that Air Arabia, Emirates, EgyptAir, Etihad, Flydubai, Gulf Air, Saudia, etc., are canceling flights to Qatar, and Qatar Airways no longer has the privilege of using the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc.

This story is only just beginning, but could have massive implications. It’s likely we’ll see more countries take sides here, which could lead to the loss of relations with more countries, including additional flight cancelations, etc.

This also isn’t good news for those of us who like booking cheap business class fares on Qatar Airways ex-Cairo, given that those flights are being canceled now as well (though in the context of this situation, that’s about the least important factor).

Qatar Airways A380

What a world… I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about this soon. I also suspect it’s highly likely that details will be changing soon.

I can’t imagine the impact this will have on Qatar Airways. They were already struggling with the electronics ban and general travel ban for the region, and this will make things significantly worse. In addition to cutting routes to some destinations, they’ll have to massively reroute other flights in order to avoid certain airspace.

Stay tuned.

  1. EY has noted that last flights will be on night of June 5, with last flight before dawn from DOH.

    Note that Saudi Arabia has also closed borders, which affects the food and other daily supplies for Qatar; I saw a report about Qataris lining up for food, like people do in South Florida before a hurricane. This also could impact QR.

    We have award tickets using AA miles on QR, for India-DOH-USA on June 21. Any suggestions on how to handle this? When should we contact AA for any alternatives, such as EY to JFK or any other point in the USA? Or, how about British Airways, and does AA still do the YQ surcharges in such cases? Ticket cancellation fees or change fees?

    I know these are relatively trivial, “first-world problems” given the overall situation — but one tends to think of oneself in such situations.

  2. @Lucky – Maldives has cut ties as well. Getting to MLE will be a lot harder for those coming from Europe now.

  3. Doha TMA is surrounded on all sides by Bahrain and Jeddah FIRs. You cannot fly to/from Doha at all without entering those airspaces. If that OVF is denied, Qatar is entirely cut off from an aviation perspective.

  4. This is a pretty ugly AAdvantage devalue for those of us booking QR flights via AA miles.

  5. What goes around comes around. Qatar (and the other Arab countries) haven’t allowed Israeli airlines to fly over them for years now.

  6. EgyptAir will not be cutting service to Doha but Egypt will be prohibiting all aircraft registered in Qatar from operating in Egyptian airspace and all aircraft not registered in Egypt must obtain a security clearance before flying to Qatar.

  7. I wonder if we’ll see a sale or two with all the empty aircraft and staff sitting around idle.

  8. Well this could muck up my return from an anniversary trip to South Africa in July. Flying CPT-DOH-BOS in QR biz on AA miles.


    Hoping AA will be flexible with this one… I can’t see this ending well.

  9. @Lucky I literally booked BRU-DOH-MLE last night on a BA award for May 2018. Should I just sit tight for now or start making some calls?

  10. @Mark, I think it’s more about those other countries than Qatar. They are using “support for terrorism” because it has become kind of a popular slogan these days, but what they have conveniently omitted is Qatar’s relation with Israel. Qatar is on the record as publicly saying that their relationship with Israel is “good”. But of course, even if Qatar allows El Al to fly over, without those other countries, they can’t go anywhere.

  11. So sorry to hear this. Don’t know enough to be able to comment on the politics, so all I can fall back on is, “Why can’t we all get along?” Really enjoyed discovering Qatar Air and was thinking about booking a trip this summer but now I will hold off personally. That’s really all except to say, Stay safe, Lucky!

  12. Whoa, this seems to have come out of nowhere.

    Would it affect flights from the US/Europe to Doha? Become a bit longer due to airspace closures and longer routes?

  13. Can’t blame them. That ugly teddy bear is a giant middle finger raised to good taste. It’s an intolerable affront to the international community.

    Hey, does this mean the Al Safwa lounge won’t be so crowded anymore? It was getting like you couldn’t even find space to breathe in there.

  14. This has been the biggest fall out I’ve known in the five years I’ve lived in Doha. There are often fall outs with one country at a time but very rarely all of them!
    Only a couple of week away from the end of the school year and Eid holidays which for travel is the busiest time of the year. Lots of people trying to re book flights. Luckily I’m flying QA back to the UK for my summer vactation so shouldn’t be affected.
    People are stocking up at the shops. Wouldn’t quite call it panic buying though!

  15. Sources are saying QR is grounding the entire fleet at 00.00 GCC on Thursday…basically as a result of what Sean M. said above; with the closed airspace, Qatar is now effectively an island aviation-wise. Rumor has it this will also apply to seagoing vessels registered in Qatar.

  16. @Ben W. Would be nice to get some perspective posted here as an insider in Doha as to what is really going on. This sounds like a pretty major development and nice to see comments from people like yourself that are living there. Of course, the most confusing part of this is how the U.S. has military bases there to launch strikes against terrorist targets – yet this news. I wonder as well given the pilot shortages in North America and Asia if this will drain some of their senior pilots that are foreign nationals to jump ship for other carriers in fear of layoffs.

  17. @Adam Where are you seeing that they are “grounding the entire fleet?” Can you post a source? Nothing on any media outlets I can see and Qatar website would I am sure be reflecting this if it were confirmed so as to begin a pretty tedious process of managing chaos. Please do not think this a challenge…I am just attempting to find where a pretty major announcement like this is appearing.

  18. on flightradar24, it does not seem like DOH takeoffs and landings necessarily need to fly through saudi airspace. indeed most takeoffs and landings happen over the water.

  19. @Stuart:

    Should’ve clarified with “my” sources: a couple of folks I know that work either for or with QR on a variety of projects. It’s probably too soon for a formal statement to be released. The internal chatter, I’m told, is that the fleet will be grounded at that time. But, everything is subject to change since we’re dealing with QR and nothing is ever according to their first (or second or third) plan/statement. So we’ll see.

  20. Part of the fallout was also to do with the leaked emails from one of the UAE ambasador wanted the US airbase to pack up and relocate to the UAE.

    As for rumours regarding grounding QA flights. I have not heard anything about this in Doha and have even spoken to a QA piolt today who was explaining to me the sort of detour they would have to take to fly to Europe and that it wouldn’t add too much time onto the journey.

  21. @”Sean M.” : i think you’re confusing FIR space with airspace. My best understanding is that FIR is just a designated single unit for ATC coordination. The place that runs the FIR doesn’t control all of its airspace, which is the air above the land plus certain maritime buffer. Bahrain FIR includes large swaths of the northwestern Gulf as well.

    Somewhere else also mentioned that QR now cannot access Jordan/Amman at all. So yeah, it appears that 100% of QR flights must depart or arrive via Iran airspace one way or another.

  22. @Sean M: I’m pretty sure FIRs are different from national airspace. I don’t think Bahrain or Saudi can ban QR from flying in areas of the FIRs that aren’t part of their national airspace under ICAO agreements.

  23. @henryLAX @arcanum I’m not confusing anything and I’ve chosen my words very carefully. Qatar and Bahrain have a treaty whereby Qatar places its territorial airspace outside of the TMA into the control of Bahrain FIR. Therefore, how Bahrain ATC chooses to interpret that and grant/deny passage under the current circumstance will determine whether QR can operate through there. The airspace over the waters of the Gulf surrounding Qatar are part of Bahrain FIR and therefore de facto under the control of Bahrain. The airspace of the FIR and the territorial airspace of KSA/Bahrain are not the same.

  24. I wonder if Israel will open up its airspace to Qatari planes. Obviously if QR planes can’t take off or land it will be a moot point but assuming QR can continue to operate it’s an interesting scenario to consider.

  25. As northern Iraqi airspace is a no-no, most flights to/from Europe operate via Iranian and Turkish airspace. Flights to the US could do the same.

    Under international agreement flights can still operate through Bahrain and Saudi controlled airspace as long as they do not overfly the land or territorial waters of those countries. Having said that, it does look like the flights to Africa and South America will be screwed!

  26. This will definitely be a huge blow to Qatar and Qatar Airways. Imagine the loss of traffic from the GCC states connecting via DOH, and the minor hajj travel crowd they draw from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia now unable to continue onwards to Jeddah/Medina. I’m also very interested to see how Al Baker will react to this..

  27. What’s Interesting to note is that Qatar is still accepting bookings from Abu Dhabi and Dubai in July.

  28. “host the leadership of a terrorist group”

    Hamas is about as much a terrorist group as the Haganah, Irgun, Lehi, or the Stern Gang were…

  29. This is a mess. The US has 11k troops in qatar and there is really no way something like this goes down without Trump’s approval. The guy who was placed in charge of dealing with iran at CIA is a hardliner so it looks like trump is starting to push for war with iran. Funny enough the vast majority of foreign terrorists who have attacked the us are associated with saudi arabia not iran something like 96%.

  30. @KR
    I called AA and got them to rebook my award ticket on Cathay (luckily ticket was available on the same day and for the same class as my Qatar redemption). Had to pay only the difference in taxes.

  31. @GV
    Routing? I ask because CX is open for my dates, but would be in violation of AA award routing rules from South Africa to North America (via HKG). Currently going via DOH, which is a routing exeeption…

  32. Among several reasons mentioned in Saudi Arabia’s official statement why did you single out “supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups” to include in your post?

  33. what ever is going on???? its best to get correct info, guessing, and trying to determine , what is happening, or going to happen is not good, The Don, of course will know about this, so wait for White House to advise.< and update, my advise?? wait, be calm,

  34. Just arrived to Doha from Tokyo to find that my connecting flight to Cairo has been cancelled!!
    Currently at the Al Safwa lounge, which is totally empty!!
    The staff is very concerned, almost scared, but they are trying to route me through Beirut!! They try to resolve this in a very professional way!!

  35. @No Name, relationship with Israel is complicated. A very long list of muslim-majority countries don’t have diplomatic relationship with Israel, say all kinds of things about them from time to time, but quietly have reciprocal trade and other collaborations going with Israel. And, of course, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is even more complicated. You are looking at it from a very U.S.-centric view when it’s really through Qatar’s eyes you should look through. We may officially consider Hamas as a terrorist group, but you have to remember that many countries in the world do not. What is the saying, one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, or something like that?

  36. Just few weeks ago Qatar had a deal on their business class and I almost booked 2 tickets for it to go to Asia. I’m glad I didn’t, I’m hoping the best for those that did. Qatar will definitely trying their best to resolve this problem, hopefully it will be soon

  37. @Sayeed I think you were responding to my comment and I’m actually looking at it from Qatar’s point of view. While one mans terrorist can be another mans freedom fighter, let’s be honest: Qatar cares about one thing and that is money. The better the relationship with Israel odds are there will be a strong positive correlation with money they make. In reality, the only reason they wouldn’t do anything publicly (and for that matter several other Arab countries especially the like of UAE, Oman etc.) is because of the backlash they would receive in the Arab world and the fact that “officially” Israel is enemy number one. Do you really think Saudi Arabia and Egypt would care if Qatar officially gets closer to Israel? Of course not, even Saudi Arabia has under the table relations with Israel. However, if as part of an agreement with Israel to use their airspace they cut funding to Hamas, even if publicly they condemned such a move, it’s no secret they both hate Hamas. So it would actually seem like a win-win from all sides. Qatar gets easier access to the Mediterranean and parts of Eastern Europe, Hamas gets weakened which helps Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia (though the latter two may not acknowledge so publicly) and most importantly leads to a weakened Iran. Maybe they could even include cutting funding to Hezbollah. Plus Qatar can go to Iran and basically say they had no choice but to cut a deal with Israel since it was hurting them economically or something like that.

    Also, definitely interesting to be talking to someone from Qatar. I myself am very familiar with Israel and its politics and normally I don’t meet many people who are from Arab countries much at all. In a way it’s kind of sad that I need to come here to do it but then again I guess that’s the wonder of the internet.

  38. @Al
    Why don’t you normally meet people who are Arab? If it is because you are Israeli, there are plenty of Arabs you could meet there in your own back yard, so to speak. If you aren’t Israeli, then you can always visit Arab countries.

  39. @ Julia, I am not Israeli but have been there many times and have family there. I live in the USA and in my community there are not many people of Arab descent. As for visiting Arab countries I am Jewish so you can understand my apprehension in going to Arab countries. While there are plenty Jews that do go, many including myself do not feel comfortable.

  40. @Al, actually I was responding to someone called “No Name” (which might have been you, I don’t know), who responded to my earlier comment. I don’t have much disagreement with what you said. International geopolitics is very complicated and we often end up with strange bedfellows.

    By the way, I am not from Qatar, I’m just an American who teaches public policy. 🙂

  41. @Sayeed O my bad. Well in any case I would love to know what’s happening behind the scenes…

  42. The Philippine Government has halted all Overseas Workers leaving to go to Qatar effective immediately.

  43. @Al

    Try meeting some Palestinians on your next trip to Israel. Visit some Arab countries if you can (as long as your passport doesn’t have an Israeli stamp). Spend time outside of your community as much as possible.

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