27 JUNE 2022

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COMMENT: The Willie & Akbar show

At very short notice Qatar Airways and its boss Akbar Al Baker saved the 2022 78th IATA AGM with a very different style of gathering at Doha last week.

The meeting should have been at Shanghai but Covid problems eliminated China’s commercial capital. 

No Airbus and Boeing evenings, the social side purely down to Qatar and its airline.

In truth it was quite easy for the host carrier with, at the centre, the Sheraton Hotel, a previous host property, and Qatar building up for the FIFA World Cup starting in November.  The country is noted for its fine hospitality.

It was also the Willie & Akbar show, IATA boss Willie Walsh liberated from the commercial considerations when Chief Executive at IAG, and Akbar Al Baker being a generous host, however exasperated when his guests treaded on the hallowed Khalifa International Stadium turf in a bid to get up close to Jennifer Lopez, the star attraction at the Grand Finale evening event.

In his industry report Walsh was sanguine quoting fellow Irishman George Bernard Shaw “science never solves a problem without creating ten more”. His dig was against politicians around the world whose claim was that “their decisions were driven by the science.  “Covid-19 was catastrophic”, said Walsh.  “It robbed our world of millions of people – family, friends and colleagues. And the response of governments dismantled connectivity, destroyed jobs and inflicted misery on people, actions justified by politicians around the world!”  No longer an airline boss he was clearly in his element.

IATA announced that Mehmet Tevfik Nane, Managing Director, Pegasus Airlines, has assumed his duties as Chair of the IATA Board for a one-year term with his airline hosting the 2023 AGM in Istanbul.  It is bound to be a less boisterous affair.

At the final press briefing Al Baker was asked about the problems of air freighting lithium batteries.  His response was that the national airline has ordered 400,000 fire resistant containers to carry this item among other explosion-prone objects. “Most of the fires we have seen in our aircraft were due to undeclared, badly packed, and sometimes refurbished lithium batteries being loaded on the aircraft.

“Some two months ago, we had a close call in one of our flights from a very small lithium battery. And we were very fortunate that it generated enough smoke to alert our pilot. And we did an emergency landing in an airport in Pakistan. It was a flight originating from the subcontinent. If the industry does not wake up, lives will be lost”.

IATA has now called on governments to further support the safe carriage of lithium batteries by developing and implementing global standards for screening, fire-testing, and incident information sharing.

Asked by BTN’s Malcolm Ginsberg why Qatar Airways chose London for its “paintwork” court case against Airbus, Al Baker said that the airline liked the British legal system “English law and English Courts”.  All Qatar Airways contracts were accomplished in that manner.  

The temperature in Qatar was stifling, getting up to 44°C at one point.  The numerous inter hotel buses sat around with their diesel engines running to support the air conditioning causing more ecological damage and making it even hotter.  

Whilst the aviation industry is successful in a remarkable effort to keep emissions to sustainable levels we are still seen as bad boys Al Baker had said.  Ginsberg agreed and asked it airlines could put pressure on airports and typically hotels (suppliers) to go electric as soon as possible.   

Al Baker responded that this was a government responsibility and Walsh concurred.  See also in this week's BTN British-Irish EXPO.

Connor Campbell, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, shares his expert advice on the key signs you should know to avoid being scammed while claiming compensation.

“During the pandemic, travellers were warned of a proliferation of fake travel companies threatening to retain offering refunds and/or compensation for cancelled trips, while secretly stealing personal information - and people should continue to be wary of this during the surge of flight cancellations.

“Often, scams occur when holidaymakers are contacted by criminals purporting to be from travel companies, tour operators and insurers offering to refund or rebook cancelled holidays.

“Other ways scammers will trick people is by setting up fake websites and offering refunds and compensation to holidaymakers.

“Normally, the fake websites or phone numbers appear when people search online for flights.

“Red flags can include booking the flight through the website or over the phone, but when you receive the confirmation email it’s clear that you didn’t get a proper flight ticket.

“Another scenario that can occur is booking a flight on a travel website offering deals and paying with your credit card. After paying, you receive a phone call from the company saying that there’s been a sudden price increase and you need to pay an extra fee to finalise your booking.

“This is an immediate red flag you and a legitimate company wouldn’t do this, meaning you are being scammed.

“To avoid being scammed in the first place, before making any purchases make sure you conduct research on a company you come across which you are not familiar with.

“It is important you double-check the URL before you enter personal or payment information. Normally, secure links start with “https:/” and include a lock icon on the purchase page.

“Always be wary of third-party websites and you should always be suspicious of websites that don’t have an available customer service number and no physical address.

“When making an online purchase, you should use a credit card instead of a debit card or your bank account- as fraudulent charges made on a credit card can usually be disputed.

“When it comes to claiming compensation if you receive an email purporting to be sent by a CAA representative, delete it straight away! The CAA advises affected passengers to contact their airline in the first instance.

“If your flight has been cancelled, check the airline's terms and conditions. Whilst most airlines will provide a refund or an alternative flight, some may also provide assistance during the disruption.

“Also, remember to check your travel insurance as this may cover you for the cost of accommodation and other additional expenses.

“When it comes to protecting your money, never send your personal, credit card or banking details in an email or over the phone, as scammers can use your details to commit identity fraud or steal your money.

“If you ever feel unsure whether you have received a legitimate request, call the airline using contact details from legitimate sources, like through an internet search and telephone directories. Don’t rely on the contact details provided to you in an email or through the phone.”

Air League at House of Commons

The setting could not be more magnificent for the Air League’s annual awards evening.  The House of Commons terrace on a perfect summer’s sunset and a fly past, representing the Nation’s military rotary flying forces.

Civil Aviation Minister Robert Courts who made the presentations with The Founders’ Medal, the Air League’s highest distinction, awarded for the most meritorious achievement in the whole field of British aviation, aerospace, and space to Rolls-Royce for the pioneering technological advancements and record-breaking flights achieved by the Accelerating the Electrification of Flight project (ACCEL).

In November 2021 the ‘Spirit of Innovation’, flown by test pilot and Rolls-Royce Director of Flight Operations Phill O’Dell, an all-electric aircraft built by Rolls-Royce, broke two world speed records, averaging 555.9km/h (345.4mph) over 3km, and 532.1km/h (330mph) over 15km.

For a full list of award winners see:

Also see BTN 22 November 2021 World’s fastest electric plane.

Airport slots

The Department for Transport (DfT) has temporarily relaxed rules around airport slots to help airlines avoid last-minute cancellations due to staff shortages.

It said airlines will be given a short window, described as an "amnesty", to hand back take-off and landing slots they are not confident they will be able to operate for the rest of the summer season.  

The challenges facing airlines at the moment are manifest.  Airline CEOs for a period will not have the “use them or lose them” problem.  They will have to be very careful as a lack of slots will not be an acceptable excuse when apportioning blame for delays.

The DfT says these regulations, which are subject to parliamentary approval, will allow airlines to “plan ahead and deliver a realistic summer schedule”, and benefit passengers by providing them with notice to make other arrangements.  How long the window remains has yet to be seen.

"This will help passengers find alternative arrangements ahead of time, rather than face the kind of last-minute cancellations seen over the Easter and half-term holidays”, a spokesperson said.

It represents something of a U-turn for the government after it had demanded airlines put on full flight schedules, previously saying that airlines had to fly 70% of their flight slots at airports or lose them.

Airlines buy slots to operate their schedules but can lose them to rivals if they fail to maintain their obligations to the airport and passengers by failing to fly.

Also see in this week's BTN Heathrow Aeroflot slots

BA summer strikes

Heathrow airport faces a summer of strikes after hundreds of British Airways (BA) workers voted for industrial action.

The GMB Union says a total of 95% of those who voted said they were prepared to strike, on a turnout of more than 80%.  No dates for industrial action were given but are likely to be during the peak summer holiday period.  What percentage of public-facing staff belong to the union is not known, nor the BA contingency plans at this stage.

BA operates about 600 flights a day from Heathrow.

The dispute is over BA’s refusal to reinstate 10% pay which was docked during the pandemic.

The airline strikes, should they go ahead in the summer, are only affecting Heathrow, not Gatwick nor London City.  CityFlyer flights from other UK airports should not be affected but those flying into Heathrow are likely to be impacted.

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:” Passengers must not be made to bear the brunt of these strikes. British Airways should make the necessary arrangements to avoid a raft of hugely disruptive last-minute cancellations”.

“Strikes by airline staff are within the airline’s control because it is negotiating with its staff, so if your flight is delayed or cancelled then you’ll likely be entitled to compensation”.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “This is obviously a matter for British Airways and the unions, and we would strongly encourage both to come together to find a settlement”.

“We don’t want to see any further disruption for passengers. Strike action would only add to the misery being faced by passengers”.

“DfT will obviously work closely to look at what contingency measures BA could put in place”.

BBGA business aviation events

The British Business & General Aviation Association (BBGA) has published dates for several future events.

The House of Commons reception on the first day of Farnborough (Monday 18 July) is now on a wait list.

Set for Wednesday 30 November at The Dilly, Piccadilly, from 19:00−21:00 there is the always popular BBGA Christmas Drinks Reception.   

No venue has been announced as yet but the BBGA Annual Conference & AGM 2023 should be in your diary for Thursday 2 March 2023. It will be an all-day event followed by an Evening Drinks Reception.

British-Irish EXPO

Robert Courts MP, Aviation Minister, spent some time at the British-Irish Airports EXPO at ExCeL London last Thursday (23 June).

ExCeL itself was busy hosting a number of other exhibitions, the Elizabeth Line clearly the most popular access means.  When coming from central London be in the rear of the train or otherwise it can be a long walk.

Courts toured the exhibition and visited most of the near-90 exhibitors before appearing on stage to address the entire EXPO alongside senior stakeholders of RABA Group (42 UK and Dependency regional airports), Heathrow, and the British Aviation Group (200+ UK airport suppliers).

Dominating the show entrance, was a pair of Yutong buses, fully electric, and able to run for several days with the air conditioning working.  Passenger coaches are amongst the worst polluters in public transport. In hotter climates the drivers tend to leave diesel engines running the whole time regardless of whether there are passengers on board or not. (See COMMENT: The Willie & Akbar show in this week’s BTN.)

A presentation that caught the eye at one of the three stages was by British company Skyports who have recently acquired the Isle of Dogs Falcon Heliport (Skyports London Heliport) for use by eVTOL machines from 2024.  CEO Duncan Walker spoke passionately about the future of these machines which he claims are quieter, greener and cheaper than traditional helicopters.  Skyports is teaming up with Brent Cross South Ltd Partnership, a joint venture between Argent Related and Barnet Council, for the development of a passenger air taxi vertiport at Brent Cross north London.

Business Travel Show

Organised by Northstar, the New York based travel group, the long-established Business Travel Show (now renamed Business Travel Europe) takes place this coming Wednesday and Thursday 29-30 June at ExCeL London.

In a short statement Louis Magliaro, Executive VP, pointed out that the high-speed Elizabeth Line is now up and running to transport attendees from central London direct to Custom House for ExCeL in just 12mins.  The show co-located for the first time with TravelTech Show and The Meetings Show.

The Business Travel Show Europe conference is two and a half days of hard-hitting content designed to help travel buyers overcome the challenges that are battering the industry, as well as identify future trends and opportunities that can help refine their travel policies, programmes and strategies.

Amongst the many events planned in and around the show is a Hosted Buyer Pre-Show Dinner (28 June), each day an American Express GBT Complimentary Barista (stand G31), CTM Drinks Reception (29 June stand J20 15:00–16:00), and TravelPerk (29 June stand J21 13:30).  There is also a Heritage Networking Dinner 29 June.

A full list of these events can be found here:

Compensation and scams *

The entire aviation industry has faced operational issues in the last three months since Covid travel restrictions for UK arrivals were eased.

Airlines and airports have suffered from severe shortages, having let go of thousands of employees during the pandemic, when demand for air travel ground to a halt.

There are an estimated 10,000 of the 160,000 easyJet flights on sale for July, August and September expected to be cancelled.

As travellers seek compensation for these cancellations, experts are warning those to be extra cautious of scammers and fake travel companies.

This link makes for interesting reading!

Delays in the US

BTN readers should be aware that the cancellation/ delay/ problems associated with European airports and airlines are also prevalent in the United States.

United Airlines will cut about 50 daily flights from Newark, New York’s second airport, from next month in an effort to reduce delays that have disrupted travel this year.  The airlines’ bosses have said that the delays are the result of capacity constraints, airport construction and air traffic control – not staffing shortfalls.  The cuts amount to about 12% of United’s schedule at its New Jersey hub and apply solely to domestic flights, but not international services and start on 1 July.

Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest and Alaska are among the carriers that have also trimmed their schedules this year.

Emirates to Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is the latest destination for Emirates, a direct result of the new rapport between Israel and many of the Arab states.

A new daily service will provide Israeli travellers convenient access to Dubai, with easy connections to popular holiday destinations including Australia, Maldives, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.  Emirates will also offer convenient access into Tel Aviv from diverse points across its network with multiple daily and weekly flights, many of which are home to thriving Jewish communities.  UAE Nationals will be able to visit not only Israel but many sacred sites hitherto not reachable.  It is likely to be a popular business route also.
In addition to this latest Tel Aviv destination, this year Emirates will also be restarting services to Buenos Aires, Christchurch, Rio de Janeiro and Stansted.

The aircraft for the inaugural flight was Emirates’ popular Boeing 777 Gamechanger, featuring the world’s only fully enclosed First Class private suites with virtual windows.  Emirates will then operate its three-class Boeing 777-300ER on the route, featuring eight private suites in First Class, 42 lie-flat seats in Business Class and over 300 spacious seats in Economy for the daily service.

Etihad Airways upgrades

With Emirates and Qatar Airways introducing new ‘upfront’ accommodation, Etihad Airways is quickly following with the debut of the Airbus A350 Business Studio and for the future spacious private suites for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Collins supplied its doored Elevation seat, previously known as the Super Diamond NG, to serve as Etihad’s A350 Business Studio suite.

Etihad has 11 Dreamliners set for delivery from 2023, and an Etihad spokesperson has confirmed they will be fitted with the new Elements suite from manufacturer Collins Aerospace.

For the 787, Etihad will move to the latest Collins’ Elements platform which its designers have evolved to increase personal space and privacy.

A revised seat mechanism allows the seat to be positioned “closer to the back of the shell”, said Alistair Hamilton, VP Sales & Marketing, Aircraft Seating, Collins Aerospace.

“The bed now goes lower, we’ve raised the food tray so it’s more out of the way when you enter bed mode, everything lets us use the space more efficiently”, Hamilton noted at last week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, where Elements made its public debut.

Farnborough *

Opening in just three weeks’ time (Monday 18 July) the Farnborough International Airshow will bring together for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic all the disparate areas of the aerospace industry including commercial aviation, military, ground and back-office services, plus the most senior executives and their political counterparts.

The show runs from the Monday to the Friday inclusive.  If you are not coming by air (and slots are a problem) and don’t want to chance the road, the best way is by train on the Waterloo – Portsmouth line and catching the courtesy bus from Farnborough (Main) station.

To give a sense of the scale of the biennial global gathering, here are the key numbers for the last airshow, in 2018:

  • US$192bn in deals – up US$67.5bn on the 2016 airshow
  • More than US$154bn commercial aircraft ordered
  • More than 1,432 engines ordered, valued at US$21.96bn
  • 1,500 exhibitors, representing 48 countries
  • 80,000 visitors, from 112 countries

Gareth Rogers, CEO of Farnborough International, said: “We really are delighted to be able to host the world again, here in the UK. 2019 in Paris was the last time the whole world got together and therefore the whole industry is so excited to come to Farnborough in the summer”.

Among the highlights this year will be the Pioneers of Tomorrow event on Friday 22 July, when industry exhibitors will be given a rare opportunity to engage with and inspire with future aerospace recruits.

Aimed at school children aged 11+, school leavers, graduates and career movers, Pioneers of Tomorrow will introduce the next generation of leaders, innovators and pioneers to employers, providing valuable insight into the wealth of career opportunities available throughout dynamic, global industries.

See BTN 13 June Aerospace Global Forum – another major feature on the Friday.

Heathrow Aeroflot slots

Airport Coordination Ltd (ACL) has now reallocated the Heathrow slots taken away from Aeroflot due to the Putin war.

Vistara, the joint venture between India’s Tata group and Singapore Airlines, and which began flying to Heathrow during the pandemic, has gained a permanent daily slot pair, whilst JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic have added to their existing allotment. Avianca and China Airlines of Taiwan have also benefitted from four slots a week and WestJet, the Canadian budget airline, is to add three Heathrow slots in addition to its Gatwick operation.

Edmond Rose, the former Chief Executive of ACL, now an aviation consultant, said the invasion of Ukraine had created “a lucky windfall” for the carriers.

In an online post, he added: “The diversity of destinations they will serve is impressive, touching four continents. JetBlue and Vistara are particularly fortunate to be allocated prized slots for every day of the week. JetBlue’s morning arrivals are especially valuable for transatlantic operations”.

Also see in this week’s BTN Airport slots.


An interesting comment by Ian Berry on the ownership of BA & LHR is our LETTER OF THE WEEK.

Lo Bue-Said Advantage Travel speaks out

ON THE SOAPBOX contributor Lo Bue-Said of Advantage Travel has again spoken out and urged the industry to strengthen its government engagement and deliver "a clear narrative" on the overall value of the sector.

Speaking one year on from the Travel Day of Action outside parliament (BTN 23 June), which was attended by more than 800 people and 52 MPs, Lo Bue-Said said "many lessons" have been learnt.

"When we congregated at Westminster a year ago, we brought the entire industry together with the single aim of raising the plight of the travel industry, the risk to its future, job losses and economic impact", she continued. "The event was a mass lobby and proved successful in mobilising MPs to speak up for travel”.

Lo Bue-Said said the industry is "already in the next crisis", and there are still "many current challenges" despite the surge in demand for international travel.

Last year’s gathering was orchestrated by ABTA.  "A year on, there have been many lessons learnt, least of all that we need to put ourselves in a position of strength by improving our government engagement".

Also see BTN 4 April ON THE SOAPBOX.

London City Airport scoops award

NATS digital tower is clearly the way forward.

Following on from being named by the Daily Telegraph as the best airport in the UK, London City was awarded the Digital Transformation Award at the 32nd ACI Europe Annual Congress in Rome.  It is probably the only major airport in the world with its ground movements controlled remotely.

The award was in recognition for the design, delivery and operational success of the pioneering Digital Air Traffic Control Tower, which has been fully operational at London City since January 2021.

Commenting on the award Alison FitzGerald, Chief Operating Officer at the airport, said: “This project goes back to 2016 and I want to pay tribute to everyone involved in getting it approved by our regulators, as well as built, operationally ready and prepared for a busy summer ahead.

This recognition also speaks to the strength of the relationship we have built with NATS over the years, and I am hopeful that there is even more we can achieve together, helping us both to lead the way in making our industry safer, more sustainable and cutting edge.”

See BTN 8 July 2019 ON TOUR: NATS at Swanwick.

Oman Air joins oneworld

In an event largely dominated by the host airline, Oman Air officially became a oneworld member designate at IATA Doha.  At the same time it announced its return to Heathrow Terminal 4 where it has its own dedicated lounge.

In an event largely dominated by the host airline, Oman Air officially became a oneworld member designate at IATA Doha.  At the same time it announced its return to Heathrow Terminal 4 where it has its own dedicated lounge.  

Oneworld will be the only global airline alliance with three members in the Middle East after Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian. Oman Air’s joining will add new destinations to the oneworld network including Duqm and Khasab in Oman and Chittagong (Bangladesh). Oneworld Emerald, oneworld Sapphire and premium cabin customers will also gain access to three Oman Air lounges at Muscat, Salalah and Bangkok.

Launched in 1993, Oman Air is the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman. From its roots as a domestic airline, it has transformed into an international carrier serving 41 destinations in more than 20 territories. It operates a modern fleet of more than 40 aircraft comprising Boeing 737s, 787s and Airbus A330s.

Qantas and mainland Europe *

On 22 June, Qantas flew direct from Perth Airport (PER) in Western Australia to Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO) in Italy for the first time.

The new route takes 16hrs 25mins and flies three times per week. It is Qantas’ first non-stop link to mainland Europe, though Australia’s flag carrier also offers a direct Australia – UK route, with non-stop daily flights from Perth – Heathrow Airport (LHR) which launched in 2018 and has now returned.

There have been no other announcements of more routes to date, Rome being slightly shorter than Frankfurt or Paris.  Italians are said to be the second largest ethnic group in Australia.

Despite the pandemic putting a firm halt on overseas travel to and from Oz in 2020 and 2021, Qantas confirmed in a May 2022 announcement that they had ordered 12 A350-1000 aircraft from Airbus, and gave a loose date of ‘late 2025’ for the expected launch of what it calls ‘Project Sunrise’, non-stop Sydney – London and Sydney – New York.

Ryanair smug

Not for the first time Ryanair has laid claim to being the best organised of Europe’s airlines.

Two statements last week appeared to back-up the claim that it is better managed than some. The Dublin-based airline is not immune from delays and crew shortages.

On Monday (20 June), in the middle of IATA, it issued a statement saying it had launched 200 rescue flights on its routes from 19 UK airports to Europe to facilitate UK families whose flights are being cancelled by BA, easyJet and TUI.  Other airlines took the sensible view of not responding as to whether true or not.

By Friday (24 June) it was confident enough to confirm that less than 2% of its 3,000 daily flights have been affected by strikes, mainly confined to minor disruptions in Belgium, where over 60% of Ryanair’s scheduled flights to/from Charleroi and Zaventem will operate.

No details of this week’s operations have been published but the airline did say that over the weekend just gone the carrier expected over 98% of its 3,000 daily flights will operate normally.

See BTN 20 June regarding Ryanair strikes.

South Africa

With Virgin Atlantic due to re-introduce flights from London to Cape Town from 5 November, South Africa has removed its final Covid-19 restrictions, marking "the return to life as we knew it before the pandemic", according to Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Tourism.

Currently British Airways flies daily direct to Cape Town with both airlines serving Johannesburg.  South African Airways has closed its London office and no longer flies direct.

The country's final Covid-19 restrictions were lifted last week. There are now no testing requirements to visit the country for vaccinated or unvaccinated travellers, face masks are no longer required indoors or in public settings and there are no limits on gatherings.

"This will go a long way in boosting the tourism sector’s growth as travellers will be able to participate in more activities, including attending big events and gatherings that not only contribute to our country’s appeal but also to our economy", Sisulu added.

Kgomotso Ramothea, acting hub head UK and Ireland for South African Tourism, said visitor numbers to South Africa from the UK and Ireland have been steadily increasing since removal of the red list restrictions.  "The end of Covid-19 measures, coupled with increased capacity from Virgin Atlantic’s announcement of direct flights from London to Cape Town will give tourism the boost it needs to reach, or even exceed, the record numbers experienced in 2019", Ramothea added.

Terminal 4 accessibility

Heathrow Terminal 4 is now more or less back to normal business although prospective passengers should check with their air carrier to confirm which terminal for an individual flight.

The Elizabeth Line runs in both directions between T3 and T4 but only at present every 30mins, and is free.  

The Piccadilly Line has 10mins between trains only one way from T4 to T3.  It is a different station at T4, a 5min walk from the Elizabeth Line.  

As for getting to London, the Heathrow Express is non-stop from T3 and takes 15mins to Paddington and is expensive.  The Piccadilly Line Underground offers a good service with multiple stops.  The Underground and Heathrow Express/Elizabeth Line T3 stations are completely separate and a 6min hike.

Until later in the year the Elizabeth Line (west) ends at Paddington and if you are on a Platform 12 train you are straight into the main concourse and a 5min walk to the Elizabeth Line (central and east) for Tottenham Court Road (no Bond Street) onwards. But it could be 9, 10 or 11.  

If you have bags Ealing Broadway has lifts for access to the Central Line (and Tottenham Court Road for the eastern Elizabeth Line) and a less frequent District Line to Westminster (which also has a lift).

Wizz Air from Saudi

September 2022 will see Wizz Air launching new routes from Dammam, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Last month Wizz Air signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Investment for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia supported by the Saudi National Air Connectivity Programme (a Ministry of Tourism initiative) to support the development of the Saudi Tourism Sector. (See BTN 22 May Wizz Air expands – again.)

Chosen for the inaugural destinations are Abu Dhabi, Rome and Vienna.

The new destinations are said by the airline to be the first step towards a growing presence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) providing for the first time, point-to-point travel for tourists and residents in the Kingdom, Europe and the UAE, strengthening global connectivity.

Dammam, on the Saudi mainland sits on the Arabian Gulf, offers visitors green parks, airy waterfronts, and sandy beaches alongside a bustling arts, sports, and entertainment scene. The capital of the Eastern Province, Dammam is a popular location with adventurous travellers, who can enjoy fishing, diving and swimming.  It is connected to the island of Bahrain by the remarkable King Faisal Causeway, 15 miles long over the ocean.

ON TOUR: The World Cup 2022 Qatar

On Monday 21 November the 22nd FIFA World Cup finals begin in Qatar with England v Iran one of the opening-day matches.

ON TOUR: The World Cup 2022 Qatar was published 10 January.  This is an updated version following the author’s visit to Doha for IATA last week.  See also BTN 17 January ON TOUR Discover Qatar.

The Qataris are a very hospitable people writes Malcolm Ginsberg, and this has rubbed off on the worldwide expatriates attracted to the tiny Gulf State by its work possibilities and high standard of living. The current population is 2.8m of which only 10% are indigenous.

Included in last week’s visit was an invitation to see a Jennifer Lopez concert at the remarkable Khalifa International Stadium (68,000 capacity), the venue for England’s opening match.  Wales kick-off v USA is the same day at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.  If you are thinking of going to the World Cup it will be an expensive trip.

As an alternative perhaps you would like to consider a holiday in Qatar to get a feel for the mighty event, but leave it until October.  The summer months are unbearable.

November/December can be best described, weather-wise, as summer in the UK.  A coat is never needed and even the open-air soccer stadiums are air conditioned.  

If you are considering the finals, for even the early matches, get your booking in now.  A seven-night trip inclusive of four matches at a bed and breakfast 4-star hotel, return flight, airport transfers and a sightseeing tour with Qatar Airways Holidays from Edinburgh, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester airports will cost from £4,161.   British Airways fly from Gatwick and Heathrow.

This World Cup will be totally different from those in the past, even Russia last time around.  It is estimated that three million people attended the 64 matches in that tournament with teams being eliminated all the time as the tournament progressed. Flexibility with travel was paramount, likewise accommodation.  Doha will be a challenge for both Qatar and FIFA.

As the last games in the preliminary round reach a conclusion and progress is made towards the Final, I cannot see large numbers of supporters flocking in through the only land gateway, Saudi Arabia.  It is a flight or standing in Trafalgar Square, by the Eiffel Tower, at the Brandenburg Gate or some similar major rendezvous point around the globe.  From Dubai an air shuttle is being organised to the former international airport with another alternative being the hire of a private yacht from the UAE ports.   

Arriving into Qatar’s Hamad International Airport could not be easier, the airline (in my case Qatar Airways) excellent and the Al Maha welcoming services well worth the fee. A buggy meets you at the gate, there is priority at immigration and a lounge to relax whilst waiting for your transport.

Recently voted Skytrax World’s Best Airport, Hamad International makes passage easy.  If you have not got arrangements the taxis are plentiful and, as a guideline, £10 will take you to the city centre.

If it is the Metro that you want that is a 10min walk. Use the lifts to the platforms saving the tedious escalators.  It is a 15min ride to Msheireb, the fast-developing central area where the three Metro lines (red, green and gold) converge.  

My accommodation, the excellent Marriot Marquis, was by the Convention Centre station, 5mins further on.  If you choose to stay in one of the many hotels in Msheireb there is a courtesy local tram service, but is all walkable and mainly pedestrianized.  In the so-called new city Lusail (home of the National Stadium) a similar tram network opened to bring in 2022.

A four-journey card for two on the Metro cost Q10, a little over £2.50, a real bargain and you can buy an upgrade for the splendid premium carriages. The 900-passenger units are fully automatic and operate every 3/4mins.  

Either buy a local sim or try not to use your home-based mobile phone.  It can prove to be expensive.

As a general rule costs for dining are cheaper than in the UK.  Outbound, Hamad International Airport has a fine and competitive duty-free.

The Actual Competition

The 2022 World Cup will feature 32 teams in eight groups of four.

Four matches will be played daily during the group stage, which will run over a 12-day period and see winners and runners-up progress to the round of 16 and a knockout competition.

The Official opening of the tournament is at the Al Bayat Stadium with Qatar v Ecuador 19:00 (all times are local) on 21 November, but Senegal v Netherlands (Al Thumama) is at 13:00, England v Iran (Khalifa) 16:00 and USA v Wales (Ahmad Bin Ali) 22:00.


Lusail National Stadium the venue for the final has just been completed with a temporary capacity of 80,000 and as with all the other venues is cooled using solar power with a zero-carbon footprint.  The local tram network connects with the Metro system.  It is the nearest stadium to the West Bay Lagoon with its 5-star hotels and private yacht anchorages and about 15 miles north of Doha central.

Al Bayt Stadium is the only ground not actually in the city of Doha, but sited at Al Khor, about 30 miles to the north with a 60,000 capacity.  It is the venue for the opening World Cup ceremony and takes its design inspiration from the traditional tents of the nomadic people of the area.  Access for the most part will only be by road transport.  It will be used for one of the semi-finals (14 December).  The exterior walls and peaked roofs of each of the four stands surrounding the pitch are covered in polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) woven fibreglass membrane to create the tent-like form. A retractable roof connects the four stands to enclose the stadium.

Al Janoub Stadium is at Al Wakra at the end of the red Metro line with seating for 40,000. According to the designers, it was inspired by the sails of traditional Dhow boats, used by pearl divers from the region. The curvilinear roof and exterior profile references Al Wakrah's history of seafaring. The building is meant to resemble upturned dhow hulls arranged in a huddle to provide shade and shelter. The roof of the stadium is retractable, and is made from pleated PTFE fabric and cables, with the roof arches being 230 metres long.

Al Rayan Stadium first opened in 2003 but was demolished in 2015 and replaced by a new complex with a 40,000 capacity.  It is officially called Ahmed Bin Ali.  The most characteristic element of the stadium is the illuminated facade with an area of 39,000sq metres, which consists of multimedia screens covered by a translucent metal screen. The appearance of the facade refers to the values of Qatar, as well as elements typical for the landscape of this country. It is at the end of the green line with Al Riffa Metro station nearby.

Al Thunana Stadium is another 60,000 capacity venue completed one year ago and circular in design taking its inspiration from the traditional taqiyah (Muslim skullcap), worn by men and boys across the Middle East.  It is close by the old airport site next to the Doha Express Highway.  It is not well connected when it comes to the Metro but one can comfortably predict a fine courtesy shuttle service to a convenient station.

Khalifa International Stadium originally dates from 1976 and has hosted many major events including 2006 Asian Games.  It adjoins The Torch Hotel, the Villaggio Mall shopping complex, Aspire Park and is sited between two stations at the end of the gold line.   It is England’s home for the opening rounds with a 68,000 capacity.

Education City Stadium is newly built with a capacity of 45,000, due to be reduced to 25,000 after the World Cup.  It is at the centre of a sports and education complex and has its own Metro station on the green line.

Stadium 974
is a temporary prefabricated structure which you can see from the Corniche and is the only stadium to be relocated after the World Cup.  It has a 45,000 capacity.  It was the noisy (both inside and outside) venue for the Tunisia v Egypt match in the Arab Cup. Rad Bu Abboud on the gold line is the nearest Metro, a 25-minute walk of just over one mile.  The number 974 represents the international dialling code for Qatar (+974) and is also said to represent the number of shipping containers used in its constriction.  Some have been retained for hospitality and restroom use.

Qatar is a conservative Muslim country that has adapted to western practices.  Qatar Airways is not a dry airline (unlike Saudia) and offers the same pre-bookable special meals as any other carrier (including kosher).  No, pork products are not available, served or sold anywhere in the country.

The Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Hassan al-Thawadi, said that “alcohol is not part of our culture, but hospitality is”  If the experience of Liverpool fans who went to the Club World Cup in 2019 is anything to go by, drinking is no problem. The fan zone’s bars, located behind Doha's golf club about 12km (seven miles) north of the Khalifa stadium hosting the rump of the tournament, did a brisk trade in Heineken and Stella Artois.  The regular FIFA sponsors have not backed out. Providing you stick to the Qatar rules, fans will not suffer a lack of alcohol.  Liquor will be around aplenty although many hotels are not licensed, nor are eating places.  Bars, as we know it, do not exist.

A holiday in Doha between now and October will cost somewhere between £100 and £150 per room per night bed and breakfast in a 4/5-star hotel.  Qatar Airways is now up to ten flights per day out of the UK at prices between £600 and £800 Economy return, plus single British Airways Gatwick and Heathrow services.  Discover Qatar packages are available via the Qatar Airways website and from any good travel agent or tour operator in the UK.

AND FINALLY: PR at its best!

Your Editor-in-Chief arrived at the Marriott Marquis Doha last week only to find this waiting for him in his room at the hotel.    What a wonderful surprise.

And then to bump into Muna Abu Rabee, Guest Relations Manager, whose idea it was.  She had followed up the LCY 30 link on his mailer.

Well done!

– 30 Years Serving the Capital

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ISBN 978-1-900438-07-0