The sudden escalation of tension between Qatar and several Arab countries caught us all by surprise. We still don’t fully understand the effects that the fallout from the diplomatic spat will have on both the country and Qatar Airways. Yet, people are already asking questions about what this could mean for Cabin Crew and recruitment at the Doha-based airline.
This isn’t a political blog and we don’t intend to take sides or pretend we can offer a full commentary on the background that led to the current situation. However, as many of you have already heard, on Monday, four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar.
The group of countries, joined by Yemen and the Maldives, have accused Qatar of creating instability in the region and sponsoring terrorist groups that threaten security in the region. It’s not the first time the tiny Gulf state has been isolated by its neighbours but this is by far the most severe action taken against Doha.
What’s Happened So Far?
The unexpected rise in tension was intense. Here’s a quick summary of what has happened so far:
- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have given Qatari diplomats just 48 hours to leave their respective countries.
- Qatari nationals living or visiting these three countries also have to get out within two weeks.
- Land, sea and airports have been shut – that includes the one land crossing between Saudi Arabia and Qatar which is vital for the transportation of goods, including food into Qatar.
- No flights are allowed to operate between all six countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Egypt, Yemen and the Maldives) and Qatar.
- Qatar Airways has been banned from flying over the airspace of its neighbours involved in the spat.
As we reported yesterday, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry has said there is “no legitimate justification” for the cutting of diplomatic ties and has called the decision a “violation of its sovereignty”. Authorities have said that life will continue as normal – although that hasn’t stopped residents in Doha from panic buying groceries in fear of a food shortage.
Will This Change Daily Life in Qatar?
There’s no way of denying that the breadth of action taken against Qatar is extreme and we can’t see how life can go on as normal if this is allowed to continue. Moves are already being made to try to de-escalate the situation – The Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, has spoken with the leaders of the countries involved in an attempt to mediate. As has the emir of Kuwait.
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah will be travelling to Saudi Arabia today to urge for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has said: “It is important that the GCC remain a unified [front]”.
So far, Qatar has been deliberately downplaying the crisis. “For us, the strategic choice of the state of Qatar is to solve any dispute through dialogue,” commented Qatar’s foreign minister in an interview with Al Jazeera.
How Long Can This Go On For?
The multilateral action taken by Arab states against Qatar is unprecedented but it could just be a short, sharp shock against their outspoken neighbour. The leaders of both Turkey and Kuwait are making moves to reduce the tension and hopefully mediate a solution.
Clearly, the economic damage this crisis could cause Qatar is massive – but the other states will also suffer if this situation continues for too long. As a natural gas-rich nation, Qatar could easily pump more stocks into the market, dropping oil prices further – and that’s the last thing that Saudi Arabia and the UAE wants. On top of that, there’s plenty of capital invested in each country by all the countries involved.
But What if the Crisis Continues – What Will Happen to Recruitment?
Qatar Airways has been the last remaining star performer of Gulf carriers. As Etihad Airways and Emirates seemed to suffer, Qatar Airways announced new routes and products – Its expansion has seemed unstoppable. Importantly, Qatar Airways is also the only airline from the Middle East Three that is still actively recruiting Cabin Crew.
It’s far too early to tell whether that might change now. So far, Qatar Airways hasn’t made a public statement and recruitment events, advertised until the end of June will go ahead as planned. But the airline’s exposure to this crisis is undoubtedly huge.
Here’s a summary of why:
- Saudi Arabia is one of the airline’s biggest markets – that has now dried up.
- The airline also operates a significant number of flights to the UAE – Or did.
- As a Oneworld alliance member, Qatar Airways attracted a significant number of European and U.S. business travellers though its Doha hub to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
- With the uncertainty of how this might end, travellers may be put off from choosing Qatar Airways on unaffected routes.
- Qatar Airways has been banned from flying over the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – that means longer flight times and more fuel is needed.
Senior managers will be reviewing their passenger loads over the coming weeks to assess their staff needs going forward. A speedy resolution to the crisis will hopefully prevent any long-term damage.
Longer term, Qatar Airways would need to diversify its route network away from its Gulf neighbours in order to make up for lost market share. That would put the carrier in a head to head battle with both Emirates and Etihad in an already crowded market.
Can We Trust What Qatar Airways Says?
As always, Qatar Airways have remained tight-lipped about how these developments could affect its business. However, it’s still early days and the country is well positioned to help out their burgeoning airline if the business is affected.
It’s always hard to get information out of either Doha or Qatar Airways and this will likely get worse in the coming weeks. Watch any developments closely and remain patient. The dramatic action taken against Qatar caught the airline off guard as much as it did everyone else – they’ll need at least a few weeks to see how it plays out.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.