a pool with arches and a city in the background

Update: The UAE has joined Saudi Arabia in opening up land, air and sea borders with Qatar, in a sign that the declaration really will take full effect in the near future, rather than a drawn out agreement.

Will 2021 be better than 2020? It’s gotta be, but that remains to be seen. Already though, welcome changes are springing into bloom, and nowhere more so than the Gulf and Middle East, where years of internal disputes between nearby neighbors are thawing. In some cases, even across complex religious ideologies.

In fact, Emirates is launching flights to Israel in February. But that’s not even all of it. After years of proxy battles, lawsuits in the court of justice and frustrating air space restrictions, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt are settling their disputes.

This means in the not so-distant future, you’ll once again be able to transit between Dubai and Qatar, and many others too, and already can once again between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Flights across the region will actually become shorter, and travel in the Middle East will be a lot easier.

Official: End Of Gulf Blockade With Qatar

The GCC, made up of 6 member nations: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE is getting back together.

In 2017 Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates initiated a blockade against Gulf neighbor, Qatar, which changed just about everything in the region. Oman and Kuwait abstained from joining the blockade, which was initiated by Saudi Arabia, over a myriad of political squabbles.

To put it lightly, the three-year blockade changed just about everything in the region, including the makeup of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

For starters, no Qatar Airways flights were allowed over the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain or Egypt, which meant planes needed to take longer, more circuitous routes around the Strait of Hormuz. For a flight like Doha to South Africa, planes would fly hundreds of miles out of the way due to the airspace restrictions, burning extra fuel and taking far longer than necessary.

Land and sea borders were also closed, in what was seen as an attempt to starve Qatar, or make food and costs of other goods prohibitively expensive. The backstories, backstabbing and drama behind it all would take a hardback book by someone with a PhD to begin to explain, so let’s just stick to the good news today.

According to diplomatic channels from each country, and confirmed by each country, and countless news outlets, the blockade has ended, effective January 5th, 2021 with the Al-Ula Declaration.

For the first time in 3 years, People from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and transiting visitors will be able to pass through the borders of each country once again, and airlines such as Qatar Airways and Saudia may begin flights between each.

The other Gulf nations involved in the blockade – including the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain- are also a part of this deal, but with the exception of the UAE, which announced a deal on Jan 8th, at present, no formal agreement has been reached for cross border rights with Qatar, or flight resumption.

In a clear sign that others will follow swiftly and all issued will indeed be addressed and resumed, Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal Bin Farhan stated

“All the outstanding issues, whether returning of diplomatic relations, flights, will go back to normal,”

Prince Faisal Bin Farhan of Saudi Arabia
a pool with arches and a city in the background

What Did The 2017 Qatar Blockade Mean?

During the Blockade, there was no easy way to get from Qatar to one of these other countries, which killed off most of Qatar Airways short haul flying, and regional travel. Travelers would need to book flights from Doha to Muscat, and then hop on a flight from Muscat.

Qatar was forced to created trade deals with other countries, and burned through billions to survive the crisis. With the World Cup coming to Qatar in 2022, restoring regional links and economic cooperation is critical.

a street with palm trees and buildings

Flights Between Israel and UAE

In 2020, Saudi Arabia opened up its airspace for Israeli flights, for the first time, paving the way for shorter routes between the UAE and Israel. And now, the UAE will formally launch flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv, as of February 15th – not just air rights, but landing rights.

The UAE is even launching a kosher catering facility in Dubai, and FlyDubai is expected to begin the route.

This significant step shows significant progress towards ‘peace in the Middle East’ and the ability for citizens of the respective nations to visit others.

One of the first questions asked upon entry to Israel, pretty much forever, regarded travel to various gulf nations, and once a passport stamp is spotted, it’s fairly common place for airport waits to take a bit longer. It’ll certainly be nice when that’s no longer the case.

Easier Travel In The Middle East

With a World Cup still on the cards for 2022 – vaccine willing – increased interest and intrigue will draw towards the Middle East, and many will experience the region for the first time. In the interest of economic cooperation and peace during these tough times, it will be incredible to have greater access to fly and travel between each country.

The Middle East is absolutely fascinating, from desert stargazing in Oman to the Santa Monica by the sea feel of Tel Aviv, or Beirut. As relations continue to thaw and travel opportunities continue to open, there will be more and more reason to actually stop in and see, rather than just transit the region.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I used to earn lots of tier points with ex EU Qatar flights to Dubai with prices sometimes around £700 return. Let’s hope they reappear in the near future!

    1. Hate to say it, but I imagine some level of price fixing will likely be some part of the deal. No one likes a neighbor pissing in their backyard.

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