It was a pilot project: The Cypriot airline TUS Airways operated the first-ever direct flights between Israel and Qatar.
The two states do not have any diplomatic relations, but for the World Cup, Qatar allowed fans to travel to the games directly from Ben Gurion Airport. Planning at the airline, which usually operates flights between Israel and Cyprus as well as some Greek islands, had already begun at the end of March.
"Israeli airlines were more hesitant, and it was a risk for us too", said Micha Owsinski, TUS Airways Senior Commercial Director.
But taking the risk and offering flights between two countries without formal ties has paid off for TUS Airlines. In total, they operated six flight cycles, meaning Tel Aviv to Doha and Doha to Tel Aviv, from the beginning of the World Cup until the final match. Each of these flights had a passenger capacity of 97 to 100 percent.
Passengers had to purchase their ticket via the Israeli travel agency Tiktik. They were also asked to create a so-called fan ID, which required them to provide their tickets for a game as well as their passport information and a picture. If the passenger's personal information did not match one of these documents, then they could not board the plane.
"Luckily, these cases did not happen often. I am very happy about the cooperation between the foreign ministries of Qatar and Israel as well as their aviation authorities," said Owsinski.
One of the special security measures that Qatar demanded was that the TUS Airways flights could only return passengers from Doha to Tel Aviv that had completed their first leg with the airline. The feedback Micha Owsinski and his colleagues received from customers was positive overall.
Passengers who had booked their flight tickets weeks in advance did not know at the time they would be able to fly directly. Initially, a layover had been planned in Larnaca, Cyprus, so that flights landing in Doha would not have technically arrived from an Israeli airport.
In total, TUS Airways transported more than 2,400 passengers to and from Doha. The vast majority of them were Israeli citizens, but also a number of Palestinians with east Jerusalem IDs flew directly to watch the games.
TUS Airways secured aviation rights between Tel Aviv and Doha only for the period of the World Cup. The final match also marked the end of the first direct flight route between the countries. Whether TUS Airways will make an effort to extend the aviation rights is doubtful, but Owsinski thinks that if the flight route resumes, Israeli airlines will be prioritized.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS