Premium class seats in flights to Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria are in great demand as many Qataris and residents changed travel plans, dropping destinations such as the US, Europe and Australia following the H1N1 flu outbreak.

As H1N1 flu cases swell in some Western countries, many holidaymakers have altered their summer travel plans and are now taking off to Beirut, Cairo, Alexandria, Amman and Damascus, travel industry sources yesterday said.

Flights to these Arab cities from Doha have been seeing a “good load factor” since the onset of summer, a travel agent said.
“Getting a first class seat on a Qatar Airways flight to Beirut is very difficult these days. Although there is a heavy demand for first class seats to other Arab cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Amman and Damascus as well, it is not to the extent one sees on the Beirut route,” he said.
Qatar Airways flights to these Arab cities mostly are of two-class configuration – first and economy.
Industry sources said destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, London, Vienna, Zurich, Gold Coast near Brisbane and Florida and Los Angeles in the US, which used to attract many tourists from Qatar, are ‘less preferred’ this time round due to the rising number of H1N1 flu cases there.
“I have had many cancellations of tickets to these cities in the last couple of weeks. Many Qatari families have altered their summer travel plans, preferring Arab cities particularly Beirut and Cairo, to South East Asian, European, American and Australian holiday spots,” the manager of a leading travel agency said.
The ticket fare, except in first class, is 15% to 20% lower than that of last year, sources said. This is because of falling demand for leisure travel due to the global economic recession.
The global airline industry already hit badly by the economic slowdown is further hurt by the outbreak of Swine Flu. For the airline sector this comes at the worst possible time.
Globally, airlines are struggling to cope with falling demand, following substantial losses due to jet fuel price fluctuations in 2008 and the impact of the economic recession.
For 2009 IATA expects global losses of more than $4.5bn for the airline sector, a figure that may well seem optimistic in the next few weeks if the H1N1 flu spreads geographically or there is a rapid increase in affected cases.