Two of Richard Come’s co-workers are affected by a blockade of Qatar, a small country on the Arabian Peninsula that extends into the Persian Gulf and shares its southern land border with Saudi Arabia. Several of Qatar’s neighbors have suspended diplomatic relations and air traffic and accused Qatar of supporting terrorism.
Come is worried about the current political situation, particularly about passengers on its national airline, Qatar Airways.
“How could people expect to get refunds from Qatar Airways?” he asked. “Should they wait to book a flight until Qatar Airways refunds their money? What should people do?”
Travel in the Middle East can be one of the most exciting — and perilous — experiences anyone can have. You can never be entirely sure whether it’s safe — or even possible — to visit certain countries and regions, like Qatar, or how to get to or from them when it’s not.
Several countries have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar as of now. Along with the neighboring United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, and Bahrain, these countries include Mauritania, Comoros and the Maldives. Other countries, including Jordan and the Philippines, have also downgraded diplomatic relations or barred travel to Qatar, but the U.S. State Department has not issued any travel advisories at this time other than general warnings to American citizens to monitor closely their personal travel arrangements to Qatar.
Qatar Airways, a Oneworld Alliance member, has suspended flights between Qatar and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates indefinitely, and has been forced to close its offices in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. A travel alert on Qatar Airways’ website provides telephone numbers for its customers to call regarding travel between those countries and Qatar.
“All customers booked on affected flights will be provided with alternative options, including the option of a full refund on any unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternative Qatar Airways network destination,” the airline’s website notes.
- Contact the nearest Qatar Airways office;
- Call the Qatar Airways Contact Centre at +974 4022 0072;
- Passengers who booked using Qatar Airways’ website can use the refund request feature on the site; and
- Passengers who booked through a travel agent should contact their agent for assistance.
The airline will issue refunds in accordance with its conditions of carriage, which provide that
If we cancel or delay a flight, are unable to provide previously confirmed space, fail to stop at a Passenger stopover or destination point, or cause you to miss a connecting flight on which you hold a reservation, we shall either:
(i) Carry you on another of our scheduled Passenger services on which space is available; or
(ii) Re-route you to the destination indicated on the Ticket or applicable portion thereof by our own scheduled services or the scheduled services of another carrier, or by means of surface transportation. If the sum of the fare, excess Baggage charge and any applicable service charge for the revised routing is higher than the refund value of the Ticket or applicable portion thereof, we will not require additional fare or charges from you and will refund the difference if the fare and charge for the revised routing are lower; or
(iii) Make a refund…and shall be under no further liability to you.
Upon the occurrence of any of the events set out [above], the options outlined [herein] are the sole and exclusive remedies available to you and we shall have no further liability to you….
If we cancel a flight, fail to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, fail to stop at a point to which the Passenger is destined or ticketed to stopover, are unable to provide previously confirmed space or cause you to miss a connecting flight on which you hold a reservation, the amount of refund will be:
If no portion of the Ticket has been used, the amount equal to the fare paid.
If a portion of the Ticket has been used, the refund will be the higher of: (i) The one way fare (less applicable discounts and charges) from point of interruption to destination or point of next Stopover, or (ii) The difference between the fare paid and the fare for the transportation used.
The conditions of carriage do not provide for reimbursement of incidental expenses incurred by affected travelers, so if you are one, you won’t be able to recover hotel, meal or other out-of-pocket expenses from Qatar Airways.
With regard to connecting flights and interlines, Qatar Airways’ website contains the following language: “Other airlines whose flights are disrupted by the situation will rebook affected passengers in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations.” It also advises Qatari nationals to contact the Qatar Ministry of Interior for further information. Unfortunately, the site provides no other information as to which other airlines will service affected passengers.
Because all of the countries that have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar will not permit transit to or from Qatar through their airspace, travel times on affected flights will lengthen to avoid prohibited space. Travelers should expect delays, rescheduling and cancellation of flights on airlines that continue to fly into and out of Qatar. These include flights on Qatar Airways as well as other airlines, such as Emirates, Etihad and Egyptair, which have been forced to suspend their flights into and out of Qatar indefinitely. Affected passengers should check for operational updates with the airlines and with their travel agents. Saudia has announced that it is waiving all ticket restrictions on flights to and from Qatar.
Qatar is not on the list of countries included in the controversial U.S. “travel ban,” but since March, passengers on 10 airlines bound for the U.S., including Qatar Airways, are prohibited from carrying most electronic devices onboard the aircraft.
Qatar Airways bans from the cabin any electronic devices larger than a cellular phone, except for medical devices needed during the flight, spare lithium batteries, and chargers. Prohibited devices, which include laptops, tablets, DVD players and electronic games, must be carried in checked luggage only. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones are prohibited on all Qatar Airways flights, whether in the cabin or in checked luggage, as of October 2016.
Finally, air travel is only one aspect of the current Qatar situation. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have blocked all land, sea and air trade routes with Qatar, which imports most of its foodstuffs. Qatari residents are stocking up on food and other consumer goods. If you are going to be in Qatar, expect extremely high prices and empty store shelves.