Plans disrupted for 52 Hong Kong travellers due to rift between Qatar and Gulf neighbours
Surprise transport ban due to diplomatic tensions forces travel agencies to seek alternative flights for those returning to city
Some Hong Kong travellers have had to undergo a sudden change of plans due to the diplomatic rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, with 52 passengers currently in Egypt being forced to switch airlines in order to get back home later this week.
Jason Wong Chun-tat, chairman of Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council, said that those affected, from three package tour groups, were originally supposed to return to Hong Kong via state-owned Qatar Airways.
But because all flights from Qatar to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have been suspended as a result of transport links being cut, travel agencies had no choice but to book them on other flights to return to the city.
“It just came all of a sudden. But because it was the low season, there were still seats on other airlines. If it happened during peak season, such rearrangements would be more difficult,” Wong said on Tuesday.
All of the affected travellers have already secured seats on a returning flights.
On Monday, Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt decided to cut ties with Qatar, accusing the latter of supporting extremism. The countries have shut down flights and maritime links. Qatar has denied the accusations.
Even Hong Kong’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific Airways, has been affected.
A Cathay Pacific spokesman said that while the airline does not operate flights between Hong Kong and Doha, the capital of Qatar, the airline has codeshare flights involving Doha. A codeshare partnership is an arrangement when two airlines or more market the same flight.
“Cathay Pacific has arranged special ticketing guidelines for Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon passengers with confirmed bookings,” the spokesman said. He declined to state how many flights would be affected.
Cathay will waive the fee for passengers who wish to cancel their flights and get a refund.
The diplomatic dispute will force state-owned Qatar Airways to ground more than 50 daily departures, about 10 per cent of its total, according to scheduling firm OAG.
The carrier operates a shuttle to Dubai 14 times daily, as well as frequent flights to Riyadh, Cairo, and more than a dozen other destinations in the countries imposing the blockade.
If the ban continues, the airline’s revenue could fall by 30 per cent due to lost traffic and idled planes, the cost of diverting flights, a decline in premium bookings and a possible slump in leisure demand, according to an estimate by consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
The sudden flight restrictions imposed by Qatar’s neighbours, which coincided with a global airline conference in Cancun, Mexico, were firmly opposed by the industry.
Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told reporters on Monday: “We are not in favour of a ban. We would like connectivity to be restored as soon as possible.”
The chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar al Baker, also a board member of IATA, left the aviation summit early to tackle the emerging crisis at home.
Additional reporting by Danny Lee and Bloomberg