The 235-mile journey from Dubai to Doha that took over 8 hours — by air
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Pretend it’s 8:30 a.m. and you’re on the freeway headed to work. Moments later, an accident shuts it down, forcing a long detour on out-of-the-way the side roads.
Well, that basically describes my experience travelling between Dubai and Doha in December.
The 235-mile journey should’ve been a straight shot between two of the world’s largest aviation hubs. Yet, it took me over eight hours on two flights to get between the countries.
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When the two countries severed ties over three years ago, direct flights were cut as well. Only a handful of Arab countries maintain ties with both the UAE and Qatar — and fly to both countries. During my trip, the shortest one-stop itineraries included layovers in Jordan, Kuwait or Oman.
Of course, Kuwait or Oman are located significantly closer to my origin and destination and would’ve been my preferred transit points for the journey. But, we’re living in 2021 and the pandemic has shut borders worldwide.
Due to the coronavirus, Kuwait and Oman weren’t accepting transit passengers with U.S. passports in December 2020. (Rules change all the time, so I’d recommend using the IATA travel regulations maps to research entry and transit rules.)
As such, I was left with Amman as the fastest possible connecting point to get between the two cities.
Flying to Jordan represented significant backtracking, but it was the best I could do given the situation. My fellow flyers clearly felt the same way— at least ten other Amman-bound passengers also connected onwards to Doha.
While my Royal Jordanian flight from Dubai to Amman flew in a straight line between the cities, my Qatar Airways connection required another detour, as if flying through Amman to get to Doha wasn’t long enough.
It’s not just the UAE that has severed ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and others did too. As part of the rift, Qatari-registered planes can’t overfly the airspace of these neighbours while they remain at odds.
Flying between Amman and Doha as the crow flies requires a significant amount of time flying above Saudi Arabia. That was off-limits for my Qatar Airways flight, so we instead detoured over Iraq, adding more time to my already long journey.
And fortunately, the end may be near. On Monday, it was reported that Saudi Arabia would reopen its air and land borders to Qatar, allowing Qatar-registered planes to fly over its airspace. There’s no word yet on whether the UAE will re-establish ties with Qatar — though a Reuters report indicated it would follow Saudi Arabia’s lead. Until that changes, however, you’ll be forced to fly a one-stop itinerary between Dubai and Doha.
Before June 2017, getting between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates was simple and possibly quite luxurious.
Cirium schedules show that the Gulf Big 3 — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar — as well as Air Arabia and FlyDubai together flew 98 flights a day between the two countries in May 2017, one month before ties were severed.
The flights were blocked at just an hour and 10 minutes, though the actual flying time was often much shorter. Plus, Emirates flew its 777s featuring a posh business-class cabin, while Qatar flew a mixture of wide-body planes, with most featuring lie-flat biz.
In my case, the Royal Jordanian flight to Amman was operated by an Airbus A320 in a tight 3-3 coach configuration. Flyers weren’t great about mask compliance, and the plane itself wasn’t so clean.
The Qatar Airways connection was a lot better. The forward coach cabin had just four other passengers, which made social distancing quite easy. Plus, Qatar offers Wi-Fi, seat-back entertainment, power and a full meal, even on the sub-three hour short-haul flight.
Nonetheless, the 235-mile journey between Dubai and Doha felt more like an inconvenient trek than a short hop. In this highly interconnected world, getting between these two major aviation hubs required more pre-travel research than a long-haul flight between New York and Paris.
The end is likely near, though. With Saudi Arabia reopening its borders to Qatar, the regional crisis will likely soon become history. Only time will tell what happens next, but passengers may not need to be inconvenienced for too much longer.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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