Ouch: UK Bans Qatar Airways Flights Indefinitely

This is bad news for Qatar Airways…

Qatar & other countries added to UK’s “red list”

The UK has just added Ethiopia, Oman, Qatar, and Somalia, to its “red list” for travel. From an aviation perspective the biggest implications here are for Qatar Airways, given how big the carrier’s network is in the UK.

As far as the logistics of this change go:

  • The travel ban will be implemented as of 4AM on Friday, March 19, 2021
  • British, Irish, and third-country nationals with residence rights who are arriving from or who have transited these countries in the past 10 days will have to quarantine in a government facility for 10 days; all others will be refused entry

Even those who have just transited Doha will be banned

There are around three dozen countries on the UK’s “red list,” which is primarily based on the risk of the importation of different strains of coronavirus. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been on the list for several weeks.

What are the practical implications of Qatar Airways being on the “red list?”

  • The airline could still operate cargo flights between Qatar and the UK, as the ban is specific to passengers
  • The airline could operate flights from Qatar to the UK without passengers, and then operate flights from the UK to Qatar with passengers, since the ban is specifically on entry to the UK; this is what Emirates has done, as the airline has continued operating flights to the UK, but the UK-bound flights just don’t have any passengers onboard

Emirates has continued to fly to the UK despite the one-way ban

I don’t understand the logic of this

In general I totally get the desire for countries to protect themselves from variants of coronavirus, and I also understand that there’s no perfect solution. However, the UK’s “red list” approach seems particularly illogical to me:

  • A vast majority of Qatar Airways passengers are only briefly transiting in Doha, given that Qatar’s borders are closed, so is it really logical to ban passengers based on where they’ve briefly transited, rather than where they’ve spent a significant amount of time?
  • If the concern is slowing the spread of new coronavirus strains, then creating a rush for people to return to the UK ASAP before these rules go into effect seems counterproductive

I suppose in a way it’s fine if all of this isn’t very logical. For now the UK is strongly discouraging people from traveling, so perhaps the hope is that fewer people will travel if there are more hoops to jump through.

Bottom line

Qatar (and by connection, national carrier Qatar Airways) will be added to the UK’s “red list” for travel as of later this week, joining Gulf rival Emirates. With this, Qatar Airways will be banned from carrying passengers to the UK.

This is pretty major for Gulf airlines, given that they primarily transport passengers who are merely transiting, rather than being focused on O&D traffic.

What do you make of the UK’s “red list” concept, and the Gulf carriers being on it?

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