by Alex Macheras

June 12th, 2017

fter flying from Doha, Qatar, (DOH) to Larnaca, Cyprus, (LCA) so I could experience a flight that had been affected by the airspace ban, I returned to Qatar, where I stayed at The St. Regis Doha — stay tuned for a full review.

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Right now, the country is in the middle of what’s being referred to as the ‘Qatar Crisis‘ — as of last week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have all cut ties with Qatar, closing airspace, banning entry and blocking all imports and exports to or from from the Gulf state. Not only do Qatari-based carriers have to make special detours around the airspace of those countries since they’re now forbidden to fly through, the closure also means food, supplies and cargo deliveries have stopped. This weekend, Iran’s national carrier Iran Air said five of its planes containing fruits and vegetables had been sent to Qatar as assistance due the new land, air and sea blockades imposed by three Arab Gulf countries.

During my time here, I spoke to many people from an assortment of different backgrounds and positions to get their take on what’s happening here. I’ve also now entered the country twice by plane in three days and have experienced DOH airport at 10:00pm, 1:00am, 2:00pm and 6:00pm to see how the situation is affecting air travel. I’ve been out to various dinners with my Qatari friends and had a chance to explore all sorts of places, from the Souqs (night markets) to the Opera Houses (at Katara), all while speaking to as many people as possible to see if I could get a good on-the-ground perspective. Here’s what I learned.

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Air Travel

Obviously, the airspace situation is having a clear impact on air travel, since no flights are permitted between Qatar and Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As a result, the airport is much quieter than usual — one my previous posts detailed just how empty DOH was as I prepared to leave the Middle East for Cyprus. It was deserted. I’ve flown through Doha about 12 times in the past two years, both during Ramadan — when travel is usually slower — as well as during other parts of the year. As I said earlier, I visited the airport several times over the past few days and each time was just as empty.

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A member of the Qatar Airways team (who was a Qatari national) told me future bookings were also being affected — apparently passengers are seeing Doha in the news and assume it’s not worth the hassle. Because of this, passenger cancellations are on the rise and rumors about the airport not being a place you should transit through right now are circling.

This could not be more false — my experiences flying in and out of Doha this weekend were absolutely seamless. Everything is running as efficiently as it could be and I would absolutely continue to fly through Qatar despite the changes. While flight times are slightly longer on some routes, the only real difference is that the terminal is quieter, which, from a passenger’s perspective, is actually a good thing (though for the airlines involved, it’s not so great).

I also want to take a minute and clear up any rumors about there being tougher or out-of-the-ordinary immigration processes when it comes to entering Qatar through DOH. Once again, everything is operating as normal — the lines were short and the staff were efficient as ever and in good spirits. In fact, one of the Qatari immigration officers was an aviation lover and said he recognized me from Instagram — I then spent 10 minutes at the counter hearing about how much he loves the Airbus A380 and how he’s lucky to have been born in a country with a national airline that has such an impressive fleet.

Note that most routes are longer due to the airspace ban, but only by matter of minutes. The notable exception to this is flights from Doha to Larnaca, Cyprus, (LCA) which had a longer detour of about an hour due to the geographical location of the island and its proximity to the Middle East.

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Daily Life in Doha

If you turn on the news, you’ll see most media reporting about how there’s a lack of food in Qatar, describing scenes that are both alarming and chaotic. Well, having just been there myself, I can assure you that’s not the case.

I spoke to a manager who works for the Qatar Foundation and lives in Doha. He’s originally from India and he said that the food shortage is not an issue the people here have encountered yet, adding that he’d been to three different supermarkets within the last 24 hours and all were well-stocked except for one thing — milk. He went on to explain that most milk in Qatar was imported from Saudi Arabia, so now the shelves were being stocked with milk from Turkey, which, he mentioned jokingly, tasted better and was cheaper. He laughed when I showed him reports on my phone of there being food shortages and empty supermarket shelves and admitted that while there may have been some initial panic among buyers on the first day, the blockade was announced more than a week ago and the amount of store supplies we were seeing was normal.

Back at The St Regis Doha, I asked room service attendants if there were any products that may not be available due to the food shortage I had seen reported on the news. The agent laughed and assured me that everything was normal at the hotel, just as the Qatar Foundation manager had told me earlier.

Scenes of chaos and instability in Doha due to the political crisis are being shown on the news when, in fact, the city’s residents were as calm and serene as I have always found them to be. I spoke to the hotel pool attendant, who is originally from Uganda, who said, “If you didn’t turn on the news, you wouldn’t realize anything was happening.” He also went on to explain that from a Ugandan perspective, he believes the Qatari people are strong enough to survive by themselves, but wouldn’t want to see that. As an expat, he described neighboring UAE as almost being “another city from the same country’” rather than being part of a whole separate country, adding that the Qatari people he had spoken to were not worried and a solution would come soon.

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I met some Qatari friends for a late dinner at Souq Waqif, a market square located in the heart of Doha. As it’s still Ramadan, the area was very busy at night, with families, children and lots of Qatari locals eating food and socializing. We spoke about the Qatar situation and all agreed that the blockade was not impacting daily life directly, or really in any other way other than causing a little bit of uncertainty. The folks I chatted with went on to explain that while this kind of uncertainty would generate fear and panic in other countries, they were keeping calm and carrying on in order to show the world that the state of Qatar will not make any sudden moves that may affect daily life for its people.

The locals I spoke to, including a boutique hotel manager near Souq Waqif, said that not only was Qatar handling the situation well, it was also not reacting in a way that could cause further rifts throughout the Middle East. He explained that it’s a fact that some of Dubai’s electricity is sourced directly from Qatar, but the general feeling in Doha is that a resolution will be found and this will be sorted sooner rather than later.

On one of my mornings here, I caught up with a Qatari friend, who told me how while the people of Qatar “were hurt by the actions of their Arabian brothers,” he was sure this wouldn’t last and that “Doha is as safe as ever, and the world can continue to expect the typical Qatari hospitality the state is so famous for.” We also spoke about how the majority of Qatari nationals would agree they are not worried and a solution will come very soon.

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Bottom Line

The general feeling in Qatar right now is that this will all be solved soon. In the meantime, while there is still uncertainty in not knowing exactly how this will all pan out, the impact on Qatari daily life — and on passengers flying to/from/through Qatar — is minimal, with the main issue being the lack of connections to its neighboring countries.

The city of Doha is as safe as ever and about as calm as every other time I’ve been to this amazing destination. Most Qatari people aren’t worried about the current political situation having any negative, long-term implications, and things have already started to ease, with Bahrain announcing this weekend that it’s easing routing restrictions on Qatar-registered flights within its airspace.

During my time in Doha, I never spoke to anyone who was particularly fearful of what the future would bring, rather just folks saying they’re “waiting for the confirmation that everything is back to normal.” It’s understandable that many may think the impacts of such a blockade would be enough to cause chaos across Qatar’s various industries, but at the moment, it’s simply not the case — it’s business as usual in this city in the desert.

Have you been to Qatar recently? Tell us about your experience, below.

 

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