Carriers see unexpected windfall

Kathmandu, June 6

As major Gulf carriers operating flights from Kathmandu to Qatar’s capital Doha and vice versa — like FlyDubai, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia — have suspended their flights to Doha following the diplomatic rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia-led alliance of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt since Monday, the airlines operating flights on the route are enjoying an unexpected windfall.

The aforesaid Gulf carriers have opted to transfer the passengers who were flying with them to Doha either on direct flights of Qatar Airways, Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines or on connecting flights of Jet Airways, Biman Bangladesh and Oman Air, as per Kathmandu-based travel agencies.

“Some of the airlines like Etihad have been resorting to partner airlines — like Jet Airways — to fly their affected passengers to Doha.”

Qatar Airways and Himalaya Airlines confirmed that the number of bookings have gone up today as compared to the previous days of this season. “We would be able to get a clearer picture only after a few days,” one official of the Himalaya Airlines told The Himalayan Times.

Among others, the ones to be hit hardest due to the suspension of flights are the migrant workers who had received free ticket of budget airlines from the recruitment companies. As per government rule, the recruitment company has to bear the cost of visa and ticket of migrant workers flying to six Gulf countries, including Qatar.

“Those who had received air tickets of low-cost airlines of Arab countries would have to chip in some money because the refund would not cover the cost of flying directly to Doha in a non-budget carrier,” said Bimal Prasad Dhakal, president of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA).

The government has not issued any notice to the migrant workers in Qatar or to  those planning to leave for the Gulf nation.

“We have asked our foreign missions and labour attachés there to regularly update us on the situation in Qatar,” said Govinda Mani Bhurtel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

Qatar is one of the most preferred labour destinations of Nepali job-seekers and around 500,000 Nepalis are currently working in Qatar.

As per Bhurtel, the government would likely take a decision only in case of emergency or a humanitarian crisis in Qatar. “We don’t have to be proactive in taking any decision regarding migrant workers in Qatar right now.”

His statement is in stark contrast to response of the Philippines, another source country, which today halted deployment of labours to Qatar fearing possible food shortage and other crises.