World Cup Fans Defer Prices, Beer Restrictions Delivered By Air

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Journey to this World Cup It was supposed to be easy in tiny host country Qatar after fans had to make long flights between cities in the last three tournaments.

Eight stadiums in Qatar located in or near the capital, so fans don’t have to travel far to get to the match – in theory. The country has declared its World Cup sustainable in part because of how compact it is, but the reality is 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, housing shortages and restrictions on alcohol.

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

Dubai, the dynamic commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the region’s top destination outside of Doha.. State-owned airlines such as FlyDubai, the emirate’s low-cost carrier, are mobilizing resources by operating 10 times more regular flights to Doha.

Neighboring Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have also set up air shuttles to capitalize on the World Cup tourism boom. Every few minutes a Boeing or Airbus flies over the old Doha airport.

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

Unlike fans who had to make long-haul flights at 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 trips shorter than 500 kilometers (311 miles), are more polluting than long flights, per person per kilometer flown due to how much fuel is used for takeoff and landing.

More than a dozen World Cup fans interviewed Thursday who chose to stay in neighboring countries said it was due to the cost. Many could not find an inexpensive place to stay in Doha or anywhere else. As hotel prices skyrocketed in the months leading up to the tournament, lowly fans competed for spots in Qatar’s sprawling 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 need 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 luxury hotel for little money. … Flights are so crowded that we are not the only ones.”

After eight years of inactivity, the former Doha airport is coming back to life, with thousands of shuttle passengers squeezing through its halls. On Thursday, Qataris in traditional dress handed out juicy dates and Arabic coffee to arriving fans, who cheered and took pictures dressed in their national flags.

Other fans on shuttle flights have been turned off due to Qatar’s alcohol restrictions.. The city’s few hotels are nearly the only places where alcohol is allowed to be served after the last-minute beer ban in stadiums.. Doha’s only liquor store is only open to Qatari residents with official permission.

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

“We want to have the Dubai experience. It’s more exciting for us,” said Bernard Boateng Dua, a doctor from western Ghana who bought an all-inclusive package at a hotel in Dubai that gives him flight on the day of the match, as well as unlimited food and 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 lines without luggage, and flying for about 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 Stephen Carroll, a Welsh lab technician whose return flight to Dubai was delayed by an hour and returned to his hotel in Dubai at 4 am after a 24-hour work day.

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

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

Moya spent his Thursday talking to support at Doha Airport and shelled out nearly $2,000 to get them on a new flight.

“The logistics of this whole system is very difficult for people,” he said.

The airport on Thursday was filled with fans from Saudi Arabia, whose citizens have bought more tickets for the World Cup than the citizens of any other country after Qatar and the United States. Saudi Arabia’s shock victory over Argentina this week has created even more excitement..

Riyadh, an up-and-coming tourist destination, has sought to capitalize on regional growth by offering two-month visas to the kingdom for those with Hayya cards.. Saudi student Nawaf Mohammed said the World Cup fever in Riyadh is palpable and more Westerners can be seen at the capital’s airport and carnivals.

Just a few years ago, the prospect of shuttle flights from the UAE or Saudi Arabia would have been unthinkable. In 2017, the two Arab states of the Persian Gulf, along with Bahrain and Egypt, announced a boycott of energy-rich Qatar, cutting off trade and tourism ties due to the emirate’s support for political Islam and ties with Iran. Qatar refused to back down and the embargo ended last year.

Despite this, tensions persist. Bahrain, just a 45-minute flight from Doha, continues to squabble over politics and maritime boundaries with Qatar. Fans sleeping in an island kingdom don’t enjoy such easy flights.

Eyad Mohammed, who chose to stay on a beach in Bahrain, made a stopover 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 as well as https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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