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‘Eerie’ calm settles over Qatar’s deserted airport

Qatar Airways licences revoked

DOHA: Parked Qatari planes are pictured at the Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha, Qatar. AP

DOHA: Qatar’s state-of-the-art Hamad International bills itself as one of the most luxurious airports in the world but yesterday, it was also one of the quietest. As a travel ban announced by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came into force, terminals and drop-off areas at Doha’s “gateway to the world” were deserted. “This is the emptiest airport I’ve ever been in,” said Katie, transiting Qatar en route to Thailand. “It’s exceptionally quiet, almost eerie.”
Hamad’s cavernous three-year-old terminals, constructed at an estimated cost of $16 billion (14 billion euros), can seem relatively empty on normal days because of their massive size. But the diplomatic crisis between Doha and Riyadh backed by its Arab allies that has isolated Qatar left Hamad International a shadow of its normal activity yesterday.  With more than 30 Qatar Airways flights cancelled to and from Doha, there were neither traffic jams at departures where travelers are dropped off nor lines for taxis to pick up arriving passengers.

Inside, a calm air of weary resignation too hold.  Passengers gazed at information screens inside the terminals with amusement and pointed at cancelled flights to and from destinations across the Gulf, including Jeddah, Dammam and Dubai. For most passengers, the experience was one of bemusement. “I have never seen it like this,” said the civil engineer, who was travelling home to New Delhi.  “It’s crazy. I hope the crisis will finish soon.” Downstairs in the arrivals hall, Jaffa, a taxi driver from the Philippines who picks up passengers every day, chuckled at the emptiness.  “I’ve never seen so few people here,” he said.

‘It’s appalling’
Scenes were more frantic elsewhere in the Gulf as desperate Qatar Airways’ passengers scrambled to find alternative travel arrangements.  Scenes of long queues on social media showed travelers at Qatar Airways offices across the Gulf, as Saudi Arabia announced it had revoked the carrier’s license and would close all its offices in the country within 48 hours. Marsudi, an Indonesian trying to travel to Doha from Riyadh said he was holding a ticket, paid for by his employer, for a flight home to central Java via Saudi Arabia next Saturday.

“They have to do something,” he said. In the United Arab Emirates, the situation was just as bad for both those travelling on business and expats trying to fly home. “It’s appalling, basically,” said Farrukh Hafez, trying to find a flight home to Manchester. “I won’t be able to use my ticket, I can’t travel,” he said outside a Qatar Airways office in Abu Dhabi. “It has just absolutely disturbed all my summer plans and I don’t know if I’ll find any alternative flight to Manchester.”

Licences revoked
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain yesterday revoked the licenses of Qatar Airways and ordered its offices to close within 48 hours, state media reported, as a diplomatic crisis deepened. “The General Authority of Civil Aviation has decided to cancel all licenses granted to Qatar Airways and to close all of its offices in the kingdom within 48 hours,” a statement carried by the official SPA news agency said.

Bahrain’s BNA news agency carried a similar statement, suggesting “all passengers who purchased tickets to or from Qatar make arrangements with the airline’s offices for a refund within the next 48 hours or via the website” after that. Qatari share prices closed down 7.58 percent on Monday after five Arab countries-Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen-announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with the gas-rich emirate over its alleged support for extremism.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt announced the suspension of all flights to and from Qatar as of Tuesday morning. Hours later, Qatar Airways, which flies to nine cities in Saudi Arabia alone, announced it had suspended all flights to Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The Gulf states have also ordered Qataris to leave within 14 days and banned their own citizens from travelling to the emirate. Saudi Arabia has closed its border with Qatar, the emirate’s only land frontier, effectively blocking food imports and a segment of the country’s exports.- Agencies

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