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Crisis sees air travel hub Qatar cut off

Associated Press logo Associated Press 21/06/2017 Malak Harb

Sitting on a plane from Qatar trying to get home to Dubai, I could only watch frustrated as a scrolling map showed my flight pass overhead of my skyscraper-studded city and continue further east.

It's typically an hour flight between Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Doha, the capital of Qatar, cities that are home to two of the world's biggest long-haul airlines. My trip would end up taking five and a half hours.

The reason? It was the same one that got me on one of the last direct flights leaving Dubai on June 5. The UAE, along with Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, had cut diplomatic ties to Qatar and would soon shut down transportation links between them and the small, energy-rich nation.

The Gulf Arab states say sanctions could last for years unless Doha accepts demands that the Arab powers plan to reveal in coming days.

Suddenly, the air route between the two cities that typically saw dozens of daily flights had none. And as I finished up my reporting on the crisis, I suddenly had a new challenge in trying to figure out how to get home.

I ended up deciding to try to fly first to Muscat, Oman, and then catch a connecting flight to Dubai. To my surprise, most flights were fully booked. Agents offered me a sole remaining one-way business class ticket at 4,000 dirhams ($A1444). That shocked me. Flights between Doha and Dubai used to be under $US100 ($A132) and direct.

Options on other airlines had me travelling over 10 hours. That was too much. But I got lucky when a last-minute cancellation got me on an Oman Air flight to Muscat, the capital of the sultanate. That flight and another to Dubai cost 1,805 dirhams. It still was a lot, but I was happy to get a ticket. The airline has since increased the frequency of its flights to Doha.

Doha's brand-new Hamad International Airport, which cost over $US15 billion to build, was quiet on Friday afternoon when I set out to return home. But the line at the Oman Air counters moved slowly. Staff there said most catching flights were those trying to go to Dubai. Typically, business travellers and those working in the region routinely shuttle between cities with relative ease.

My flight to Muscat was full as we passed far above the world's tallest building and the other wonders of Dubai. When we landed in Muscat, I was surprised to find my connecting flight to Dubai had over half its seats empty.

I had no issues with passport control in Doha and Muscat, but I had worried about possible problems arriving in Dubai. Qatari citizens were given 14 days to leave the UAE. Anyone carrying a Qatari residency visa in their passport also is no longer allowed to get a visa on arrival in Dubai. But I had no problems and I was glad to be home.

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