Qatar Flight from DC Was Like Riding a Roller Coaster, Diverted to the Azores

Last night’s Qatar Airways flight from Washington Dulles to Doha hit massive turbulence.

“It was like riding a scary roller-coaster,” Raseel Mohamed, a resident of Herndon, VA, told The American Bazaar by phone from Azores.

He said the turbulence lasted “maybe four or five” minutes. “That’s like a huge drop,” Mohamed, an information technology professional from Palakkad, in the Indian state of Kerala, said. “We saw people standing there one moment, and hitting the ceiling the next. It was shaking heavily.”

He said one passenger suffered a heart attack during the turbulence and many had fractures. One elderly lady had a deep cut in her face, he said.

There’s no doubt this was a scary experience, although it’s worth noting that what seems like or feels like a ‘huge drop’ may not actually be. And it’s a great reminder to always wear your seat belt when seated.

The flight diverted to the Azores, and another aircraft was dispatched from Doha to pick up passengers.

Many of the passengers onboard with unhappy with how things were handled on the ground, but it’s a difficult situation. Residents of India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia don’t have the flexibility that US citizens do.

“American citizens — there were about 120 of them — were the first ones to be evacuated, followed by citizens of European nations and schengen visa-holders,” he said. “That left citizens of other countries angry.”

The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal. So it’s part of the European Union. US citizens don’t need a visa.

Geography, frequency, and price are reasons often cited for the success of the major Gulf airlines in carrying large numbers of passengers from India and Pakistan. They serve smaller cities than US airlines and even European ones do. But it’s also visa rules. Quite simply it’s easier to transit the Mideast for a citizen of Pakistan than it is to transit Europe in airports that would require clearing immigration to continue travel. And it’s generally easier to get transit visas for them as well if needed.

Etihad, for instance, can obtain transit visas in real time on arrival for citizens of Pakistan in the event of irregular operations.

Of course in the event of a flight diversion, all bets are off. Nationalities with no visa requirement, or with allowable visa on arrival, are going to be easier to accommodate. Long delays may provide the opportunity for greater flexibility. But a stop of less than a day, in the Azores, is going to be frustrating if you’re carrying a passport that doesn’t allow you to enter without advance approvals. It apparently took 7+ hours for some to make it to a hotel.

Frankly that’s good work it seems on the part of authorities in the Azores. Normally transit without Visa isn’t permitted, for instance, for a citizen of India when not originating in or connecting to another Schengen country.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The notion that the law should simply be ignored for arbitrarily applied compassion (because sitting inside a climate controlled airport and being provided with water is inhumane, right?) is just absurd. Neither the airline nor the Portuguese authorities caused the turbulence, and the airline did the responsible thing by diverting to ensure everyone’s safety. Like you said, they actually did a remarkable job to get everyone in a hotel within a matter of hours like they did. 1

  2. I’m glad the flight landed safely. Absent a structural issue with the prior equipment (unlikely), it was generous of QR to dispatch a replacement aircraft.

    The challenges that some pax faced with visas (or lack thereof) is unfortunate, but no different than what Americans would have faced had a flight diverted to territory which does not readily welcome US citizens. Imagine the flight diverted to Chad or Angola?

  3. Flex Phil to Doh and back in Late October.
    Business Class was very fair along with horrible food and
    a poor selection of movies. Would think twice about flying
    them again. Nothing special folks.

  4. I am knowing many of the passenger on this flight. They are having very big discount to fly home, but it is much batter than having services from the Air India. they would not be having such good services is plane go up and down. these peoples shud be happy for the Qatar air to be giving them flight home

  5. People treating people like crap because of piece of paper (nationality) is anything but “good work”. What crap. No religion in the world supports this, and certainly not the USA (we’re all the same in the eyes of God or whatever).

    Shameful post.

  6. The ME3 are the de facto international airlines of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. One only has to look at the huge populations in those countries, 1.5 billion combined and see how poorly serviced they are by their own airlines international services.

  7. @Sister Mary: Sorry, I disagree.

    First, there was no mention anywhere in Gary’s article about religion, nor did it appear in the posts. Religion is not relevant to whether the Portuguese authorities (a secular government) should let into Portugal (and the Azores is part of Portugal) unscreened people from countries who normally require a visa to visit Portugal, regardless of religion. The fact that they processed people through who did not require a visa is simple administrative efficiency.

    Second, nationality is not a “piece of paper”. It is the key to whether a person may constitute a security risk or an immigration risk if allowed into the country. I can easily see a person traveling on a Bangladeshi passport who is simply “allowed in” due to irrops skipping to the port, boarding the next ferry to Lisbon, and disappearing from there into the community of illegals in Calais trying unsuccessfully to enter the U.K., or elsewhere. It isn’t acceptable to Portugal, or to other EU countries, given the state of immigration in the world.

    In the U.S., we would do the same thing. Customs and Border Protection would process people with U.S. Passports, with passports from visa waiver countries, with valid U.S. Visas or permanent residency, and leave the others in a secure area until they could be boarded on another aircraft leaving the U.S.

  8. @ sister mary, go back to praying and leave actual *thinking* to the people who can use their brains for critical analysis and reasoning. Shameful post (your comment, FYI) indeed.

    As the post states, many of the passengers may not have qualified for an arrival or transit visa, so to get one at all, let alone one in 7 or 8 hours, is pretty special. And they were in the airport, not out in 100 degree weather, not suffering hypothermia in the freezing rain…there is water, restrooms, food options, chairs, etc in the airport.

  9. Note that this was a flight originating in the US. If anyone wanted to go illegal they would do it in US not Azores part of an almost bankrupt country. So stick it with the comments on not trusting Bangladeshis. What would have been poetic justice would if Qatar had sent a smaller plane as replacement and those unable to get entry visas were evacuated as a priority and the Americans and Schengens left till the next day . After all they got hotels.

  10. Yeah that’s right Retired Lawyer… them bangladeshis are always just flying around the world trips hoping to hit some turbulence so that their plane gets diverted so they can sneak off to the UK on a whim. Screw their family right!

  11. I think the likelihood of “Sister Mary” being religious is about the same as “Sukwinder Dixit” being legit …

  12. what you are talking mr. steve! I am knowing many peoples who were on this plane only!

  13. Sukwinder and Dixit dont go together. One name is from the north and another from the West of India. Next time you try to make up a name do some research. You just made up a name which is like Mikhail de Silva. Unless your Mom is Punjabi and your Dad is Gujrati.

  14. On 30 June 2017, AAL 207 was diverted to the Azores for a medical emergency. Subsequently, the aircraft’s computers did not pass inspection for takeoff. The passengers waited 18 hours to resume their flight. WHY were they not offered sleeping accommodations?

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