World Cup fans are put off by the prices, beer limits move by plane

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Traveling to this World Cup was supposed to be easy in the small host nation of Qatar after fans have had to take long flights between cities over the past three tournaments.

Qatar’s eight stadiums are located in or near the capital, so fans don’t have to travel too far to get to matches, in theory. The country has called its World Cup green in part because of its compactness, but the reality is quite different.

Tens of thousands of foreign fans are turning to shuttle flights between Doha and neighboring Dubai for a variety of reasons: high hotel prices, scarcity of accommodation and alcohol restrictions.

It might sound extreme, expensive and environmentally questionable, but daily flights have become a popular choice as fans choose to sleep somewhere other than Qatar.

Dubai, the bustling commercial capital of the UAE, is the region’s top destination outside of Doha. State-owned airlines such as FlyDubai, the emirate’s budget carrier, are organizing resources, operating 10 times more flights than normal to Doha.

Neighboring Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have also organized air shuttles to cash in on the World Cup tourism boom. Every few minutes, a Boeing or Airbus rumbles over the old Doha airport.

The concept of air shuttles is not new in the Gulf, where many who live and work in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia or dry Kuwait travel to Dubai for the weekend to drink freely and have fun in the glittering metropolis.

Unlike fans who had to take long-haul flights to World Cups in South Africa (2010), Brazil (2014) and Russia (2018), the Dubai-Doha route is shorter in most cases.

But short flights, often defined as journeys of less than 500 kilometers (311 miles), are more polluting than long flights per person per kilometer traveled due to the amount of fuel used for takeoff and landing.

More than a dozen World Cup fans polled Thursday who chose to stay in neighboring countries said it was all about costs. Many have not been able to find a cheap place to sleep in Doha, or anywhere else. As hotel prices soared in the months leading up to the tournament, frugal fans scrambled to find places in remote Qatari fan villages filled with canvas tents or shipping containers.

“We wanted to stay for five days in Doha. But it was too expensive. We didn’t want those weird fan zones,” said Ana Santos, a Brazilian fan who arrived at Doha airport Thursday with her husband.

“In Dubai, we found a luxury hotel at a reasonable price. … The flights are so crowded so we are not the only ones.”

After eight years of inactivity, the former Doha airport has come back to life as thousands of shuttle passengers throng its corridors. On Thursday, Qataris in traditional dress handed out juicy dates and Arabic coffee to arriving fans who cheered and took photos as they draped their national flags.

Other fans on shuttle flights were excluded from Qatar’s alcohol restrictions. The city’s few hotels are nearly the only places allowed to serve alcohol, following a last-minute ban on beer in stadiums. Doha’s only liquor store is only open to Qatari residents with an official permit.

Meanwhile, Dubai’s bustling nightclubs, pubs, bars and other tourist hotspots are awash with booze and cheaper than in Doha, where a single beer costs $14 at the official fan festival. Even in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s most conservative capital, tourists can buy alcohol in liquor stores without a license.

“We want to have an experience in Dubai. This is more interesting to us,” said Bernard Boatengh Duah, a doctor in western Ghana who bought an all-inclusive hotel package in Dubai that offers him match-day flights, as well as unlimited food and alcohol. “We wanted more freedom “.

Many fans have described the shuttles as a fairly smooth process: arriving at Dubai airport less than an hour before takeoff, zipping through lines with no luggage, and flying for about 50 minutes before landing in Doha just in time for their game.

But others found it stressful and tiring.

“These are long days. It’s exhausting,” said Steven Carroll, a lab technician from Wales, whose flight back to Dubai was delayed by an hour, driving him back to his Dubai hotel exhausted at 4am after a 24-hour day.

“The problem is that you have to get to Qatar well before the match and you have to allow even more time to go through the airport.”

Fernando Moya, a 65-year-old Ecuador fan from New York, said he regretted arriving from Abu Dhabi. A technical problem with his friends’ Hayya cards, which serve as entry visas to Qatar, has blocked his comrades in the UAE capital.

Moya spent her Thursday talking to customer service at Doha Airport and shelled out nearly $2,000 to get them flown on a new flight.

“The logistics of this whole system are very complicated for people,” he said.

The airport on Thursday was swarming with Saudi Arabian fans, whose citizens have bought more World Cup tickets than any other nationality after Qatar and the United States. The Saudi team’s surprising win against Argentina this week sparked even more excitement.

Riyadh, an aspiring tourist destination, has sought to capitalize on the regional boost, offering those with Hayya cards two-month visas to the kingdom. Saudi student Nawaf Mohammed said World Cup fever in Riyadh is palpable, with more Westerners visible at the capital’s airport and at carnivals.

The prospect of shuttle flights from the UAE or Saudi Arabia would have been unthinkable just years ago. In 2017, the two Gulf Arab states, along with Bahrain and Egypt, imposed a boycott on energy-rich Qatar, cutting off trade and travel links over the emirate’s support for political Islam and ties with Iran . Qatar has refused to back down and the embargo ended last year.

Even so, the tension persists. Bahrain, just a 45-minute flight from Doha, continues to bicker over its maritime borders and politics with Qatar. Fans who sleep in the island kingdom do not enjoy such easy flights.

Eyad Mohammed, who chose to stay at a beach in Bahrain, made a stopover in eastern Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

“This region isn’t always convenient,” he said.


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