Travellers planning long-haul journeys in the run-up to Christmas 2022 face much higher fares due to the World Cup, The Independent has been told.
After the success of the World Cup 2018 in Russia, the next global football tournament will be held in the tiny Gulf state in four years’ time.
Due to the extreme heat in June and July, the competition has been shifted to November and December, with the final to be held just one week before Christmas.
Qatar Airways, as the national carrier, has made commitments to Fifa for operating flights for officials, teams and media. The usual pattern in a World Cup host nation is for a massive surge in demand for departures in the two or three days after the final, which will be on 18 December.
Normally at this time of year, Qatar’s hub at Doha is extremely busy with travellers from Britain and the rest of Europe connecting for flights to Asia, Africa and Australasia over Christmas and the New Year.
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, warned that other airlines will exploit his carrier’s commitments to Fifa to raise fares for such passengers.
He said: “It will be a huge pressure on the airline, to cater not only for Fifa but also to cater for the passengers that will be travelling over the Christmas rush period.”
Mr Al Baker urged travellers to be prepared for higher prices as other airlines seized upon the reduction in competition, saying: “You have to make sure you have enough money kept aside.
“Airlines will take advantage of this huge capacity of Qatar Airways that is taken away, concentrating for Fifa, that they will charge you extra to do your travels because there will be a shortage of capacity.”
He added: “I would give you a very strong advice to plan at least two years ahead.” Normally airlines do not put their seats on sale more than 48 to 50 weeks in advance.
Currently Qatar is being blockaded by neighbouring countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It means that airlines such as Emirates and Etihad are not flying to and from the Qatari capital, Doha.
When the World Cup was controversially awarded to Qatar in 2010, it was widely assumed that Emirates and Etihad would fly thousands of fans into Doha – with many supporters basing themselves in the UAE during the tournament.
If the blockade continues – and Mr Al Baker said he thought it would – the pressure on Qatar Airways, as the sole Gulf-based carrier, will be intense. And by removing tens of thousands of hotel beds from the pool open to football fans, room rates in Qatar are likely to soar.
Teams taking part in the competition may have to base themselves a long way from Qatar in order to find training facilities and privacy. If England qualify, they may choose a base on the island of Cyprus.
Airlines flying to Russia took advantage of the surge in demand to increase fares dramatically, with British Airways charging around £1,000 return for flights from Heathrow to Moscow for England’s semi-final against Croatia.
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