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Qataris banned from flying via UAE as Gulf curbs mount

By Saeed Azhar and Jamie Freed  for REUTERS| Qataris will no longer be allowed to land at any airports in the United Arab Emirates or catch connecting flights there as part of increased efforts by Arab powers to isolate the Gulf state.

UAE airlines Etihad and Emirates announced the details of the travel restrictions on Wednesday after Australian carrier and Emirates partner Qantas Airways said it would not fly Qataris to Dubai because of the government restrictions.

Abu Dhabi-owned Etihad also said foreigners living in Qatar with residence permits would no longer be eligible for visas upon arrival in the United Arab Emirates.

Several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, cut ties with Qatar on Monday over what they say is its support for terrorism, an accusation the Gulf state vehemently denies.

The UAE had already said Qataris would not be allowed to enter the country, though the practical impact on airline passengers had been unclear. The airlines have now clarified Qataris cannot fly to Abu Dhabi or Dubai even to change planes.

The travel curbs add to the woes of Qatar’s flagship airline Qatar Airways which has now lost access to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, its two key markets for transfer passengers, said John Strickland, director at JLS Consulting.

Qatar Airways has canceled all flights to those countries, which averaged 55 a day before the diplomatic row, according to CAPA Centre for Aviation. The airline’s website said it has offered refunds or rebookings to affected passengers.

“If the actions become protracted then it’s probable that customers outside the region will seek increasingly to book on competitor airlines to avoid the longer routings and disruptions which Qatar is currently subjected to as a result of overflight bans,” Strickland said.

The transit ban on Qataris is stricter than the restrictions for Israeli passport holders who are allowed up to 24 hours to change planes at UAE airports, even though Israel and the United Arab Emirates don’t have diplomatic relations.

QATAR AIRWAYS OFFICES SHUT

UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority ordered all Qatar Airways offices to close in the UAE, the official WAM news agency reported. A Qatar Airways spokesman confirmed the move.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain revoked the licenses of Qatar Airways on Tuesday and ordered its offices to be closed within 48 hours.

OPSGROUP, an industry flight operations service, said it had advised airlines of a series of restrictions on Qatari nationals, including a ban on transit through the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the largest markets by the number of available seats for Qatar Airways and the loss of the four Arab markets could lead to a double-digit decline in revenue for the carrier, CAPA said.

“This is the strongest accusation to date of Qatar being connected with terrorism. Many travelers and corporate accounts could blacklist Qatar Airways,” Leeham Co analyst Bjorn Fehrm said in a note published on Wednesday.

Indonesia said on Wednesday it had diverted Muslim pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia to other airlines. An Islamic Religious Council of Singapore spokesman said alternative flights to Saudi Arabia were being sought, with less than 200 people affected.

Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc canceled flights via Doha to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt, state news agency MAP and the airline’s customer service said.

Source: Reuters

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