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World Cup fans put off by prices, beer limits air travel


DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Travel to this world Cup was supposed to be easy in the small host country of Qatar, after fans had to take long flights between cities for the past three tournaments.

All eight stadiums in Qatar are 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 environmentally sustainable in part because of its compactness, but the reality is quite different.

Tens of thousands of overseas fans are turning to shuttle flights between Doha and neighboring Dubai for a number of reasons – high hotel prices, accommodation shortages and alcohol limits.

It may 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 freewheeling commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the region’s top destination outside of Doha. State-owned airlines like FlyDubai, the emirate’s budget airline, are hogging resources, operating 10 times the number of usual flights to Doha.

Neighbors Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have also organized air shuttles to take advantage of 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 to 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 shimmering metropolis.

Unlike fans who had to take long-distance flights during the 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), pollute more than long flights per person for every kilometer flown due to the amount of fuel used for takeoff and landing.

More than a dozen World Cup fans surveyed on Thursday who chose to stay in neighboring countries said it came down to cost. Many couldn’t find an affordable place to sleep in Doha, or any place at all. As hotel prices skyrocketed in the months leading up to the tournament, frugal fans scrambled to find places in Qatar’s faraway fan villages filled with canvas tents or shipping containers.

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

“In Dubai, we found a fancy hotel for not too much money. … The flights are so crowded that we are not the only ones.”

After eight years of inactivity, the old Doha airport is coming 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 fans who cheered and took photos while draped in their national flags.

Other fans on the shuttle flights were put off by Qatar’s alcohol restrictions. The few hotels in the city are almost the only places allowed to serve alcohol, after a last-minute ban on beer in stadiums. Doha’s only liquor store is only open to Qatari residents with an official license.

Meanwhile, Dubai’s nightclubs, pubs, bars and other bustling tourist spots are awash with booze – and at lower prices than in Doha, where a single beer costs $14 at the official fan festival. Even in Abu Dhabi, the most conservative capital of the United Arab Emirates, tourists can buy alcohol from liquor stores without a license.

“We want to have an experience in Dubai. It’s more interesting for us,” said Bernard Boatengh Duah, a doctor from western Ghana who bought an all-inclusive hotel package in Dubai that provides him with match-day flights, as well as food and drinks. unlimited alcohol. “We wanted more freedom.”

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

But others found it stressful and exhausting.

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

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

Fernando Moya, a 65-year-old Ecuadorian fan from New York, said he regretted flying from Abu Dhabi. A technical problem with his friends’ Hayya cards, which act as entry visas to Qatar, has stranded his companions in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

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

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

On Thursday, the airport was packed with fans from Saudi Arabia, whose citizens bought more World Cup tickets than any other nationality after Qatar and the United States. The Saudi team’s surprise win over Argentina this week has sparked even more excitement.

Riyadh, a budding tourist destination, has sought to benefit from the regional boost, offering Hayya card holders two-month visas to the kingdom. Saudi student Nawaf Mohammed said World Cup fever in Riyadh was palpable, with more Westerners visible at the capital’s airport and carnivals.

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

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

Eyad Mohammed, who chose to stay on a beach in Bahrain, stopped over in eastern Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

“This region is not always convenient,” he said.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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