Starting on Tuesday, June 6th, 2017, Emirates Airways, flydubai, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia, Saudia, Gulf Air, and other Middle Eastern airlines will cancel flights to Doha, the capital of Qatar, “until further notice”. The countries where these airlines are based, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) will also close their airspace to Qatari aircraft, effectively preventing carriers such as Qatar Airways from flying into and landing in their countries. Though Egypt has not announced when they will close off their airspace, Bahrain and UAE both say that their airspace will close “within 24 hours”. Saudi Arabia closed their airspace effective immediately as of Monday, June 5th, 2017.
Kuwait and Oman are the only members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that are not currently participating in the boycott.
“The last flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha will depart at 02:45 local time on 6 June. The last flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi will depart at 04:00 local time on 6 June. Flights on 5 June will operate as normal,” said a spokesperson from Etihad Air in a press release. “Any further changes to the status of flight schedules to Doha will be communicated through the appropriate channels.”
Qatar Airways has not yet announced the cancellations of flights to countries besides Saudi Arabia, or how it will accommodate the passengers and handle the blow. An inquiry revealed that Qatar’s website still lists flights from Doha to Cairo, Jeddah, Riyadh, and other destinations in the countries that are included in the Qatari boycott. FlightGlobal data reveals that, before bans take effect, Qatar Airways flies to seventeen destinations in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and UAE.
“The situation is changing as we speak. We will need more time to handle aircraft in the region. We will obviously not be able to fly over some countries, but we’ll make sure that it doesn’t cause problems to passengers,” said a spokesperson of Qatar Airways. “We will come out with a detailed statement soon.”
The boycott comes as tension in the Gulf area, especially pertaining to terrorism, continues to rise. The countries that will partake in the boycott say that their actions are fueled by reports that Qatar has sponsored terrorism, including groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, and the Islamic State. Qatar has since labeled those reports as fake.
“Based on the insistence of the State of Qatar to continue to undermine the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and to interfere in its domestic affairs, as well as on the escalation and incitement of its media and its support to acts of terror and to financing armed groups associated with Iran to carry out subversive attacks and spread chaos in the Kingdom in flagrant violation of all agreements, covenants and principles of international law without any regard to values, law, morals or consideration of the principles of good neighbourliness or pledge to the premises of Gulf relations, and the denial of previous commitments, the Kingdom of Bahrain announces the severing of its diplomatic relations with the State of Qatar in order to preserve its national security,” said a statement released in Bahrain’s state media portal.
“The state of Qatar has been subjected to a campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication,” said a statement released by Qatar’s government.
Other motives for the boycott include a poor history in defending women’s rights and gay rights; poor working conditions; and poor treatment of migrants.
“Mostly what we want travelers to know is that this airline and the country that backs it are built on the exploitation of workers,” said Mike Lux, a political consultant who served as a U.S. government official during the Obama-Biden administration and is the main organizer of the boycott. “We want folks to understand that there are severe human rights violations in Qatar and part of the human rights violations are done by the airline itself and more of them are done by the country that owns the airline and controls it.”
The U.S. has not banned Qatar Airways from flying into the country. Qatar continues to open new routes in the U.S., most recently to Logan International Airport in Boston.
The Gulf countries participating in the boycott are also removing their political representatives from Qatar. Bahrain has given Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the region, and has said that Qatari citizens and residents who are in the country have 14 days to leave. In addition, citizens of Bahrain are currently prohibited from visiting to and staying in Qatar.
Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have cut off all land, air, and sea contacts with Qatar. UAE has given Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.
How could this boycott affect the Gulf region? First, Qatar could face massive food shortages. The Guardian reports that as much as 40% of Qatar’s food comes from Saudi Arabia, its only land border. CNN reports that Qatar gets foods including, but not limited to, milk, eggs, cheese, and chicken from Saudi Arabia. People who live in Qatar packed supermarkets over fear that stocks food and water would run out, and social media reports in Doha revealed empty supermarket shelves across the capital. Food prices in the country are expected to skyrocket due to the decrease of imports.
Other countries, such as UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain could also face economic setbacks, as they will no longer be able to conduct trade with Qatar, the region’s wealthiest country per capita. Qatar is a large supplier of natural gas and oil, and limiting where certain countries buy oil could drive up oil prices around the world.
In addition, Qatar flights to destinations outside of the affected countries could see effects of the boycott. Since Qatar Airways isn’t allowed to use the airspace of surrounding Gulf countries, passengers to other destinations in Asia, Europe, Africa, and even the Americas could experience longer flight times and higher ticket prices.
Qatar released a statement today saying that it had taken necessary steps to ensure that normal life continued. Some measures include keeping sea ports open and making sure that air space with countries not involved with the boycott remain open.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After the time of publishing, it has been noted that Yemen has also cut ties with Qatar, but Yemenia, the national airline of Yemen, has not resumed flights since 2015 due to the ongoing Civil War.