En route from Manila to London on Qatar Airways (QR), I had to endure an approximately 10-hour layover in the main airport serving the Qatari capital of Doha. Now extended transits can be a bit of a pain at the best of times, but the better class of terminal will at least have enough diversions to take one’s mind off the burden of idleness. Let’s see if this layover point succeeds in that regard.
Welcome to Hamad International Airport (DOH).
Note: The information and pictures presented here are drawn from my own experience of transiting through Hamad International Airport on 04 June 2022. Details may change at any moment and without prior notice, especially in light of the ongoing global health emergency.
For the sake of brevity, I’ve employed IATA airline/airport codes in place of full names (e.g., “QR” instead of “Qatar Airways”; “DOH” instead of “Hamad International Airport”).
Part 1: Flying into DOH
My inbound flight was Qatar Airways QR 929, departing from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL). Delayed take-off notwithstanding, our aeroplane arrived at 04:31 DOH time on 4th June 2022 – just sixteen minutes behind the published schedule.
I fully expected to go on a long walk from the gate until I reached a dedicated transfers concourse. There, my onward boarding pass would be inspected and I’d have to undergo a routine security check before being allowed into the general departures area. (See my experience at Hong Kong International Airport, for example.)
But not today.
So down the aerobridge I went, into the cavernous boarding pier, where the signs were clearly directing both arriving and transiting passengers to go up the stairs/escalator (second picture below).
I didn’t go up though – and neither did most of the others. DOH ground personnel were on hand just before the escalator, instructing only arrivals to go up but asking transfer passengers to keep going straight and exit through an open door on the same level.
And once through that door…
…I suddenly found myself standing in the main departures zone.
That’s it. No boarding pass inspection, no security, nothing. Off the plane and straight into the terminal.
Given the very obviously non-standard form of this process, and the fact that permanent signage was pointing us elsewhere, and the fact that staff had to be deployed specifically to ask disembarking passengers not to follow said signage, I strongly suspect that this is a just temporary measure (perhaps to do with the pandemic). It was quick as a breeze and easy as pie, but I surmise – once conditions crawl back to normal – that all the usual faffing about with the long walk and boarding pass checks and security will simply drop back into place.
***UPDATE: I’ve been informed (via a travel forum) that this has, in fact, been normal practice at DOH even before the pandemic. Apparently, when transit security is full, passengers on certain flights from select origin airports will undergo this abbreviated procedure.***
Part 2: Walking across DOH’s departures hall
My last transit through DOH was over a decade ago, and back then it was a very different experience. So different that it seemed – and, strictly speaking, actually was – another airport entirely.
In the following satellite image, you’ll see the present-day DOH off to the right of the motorway, easily distinguishable with its twin runways and sprawling terminal. To the left of the motorway is a single-runway facility, Doha International Airport, which originally bore the DOH code when it was Qatar’s main gateway. That ended in 2014 when the newly completed Hamad International Airport absorbed all commercial traffic along with the IATA code; old Doha International now bears the designation DIA.
There were no aerobridges at old-DOH-now-DIA: passengers were bussed between the terminal and their aircraft. QR’s First and Business Class passengers didn’t mix with us common rabble, as they had a separate “premium terminal” all to themselves.
New-DOH doesn’t have these quirks. It’s one big modern terminal, aerobridges and all. Premium passengers don’t have their own building anymore, although the luxurious lounges – including the one I used – more than make up for that.
Here’s a terminal map showing estimated walking distances if you’re coming from the northern edge of the central duty free plaza. Note the icon in the middle of the large space on the right; it will be relevant in the next paragraph.
I should probably mention that DOH is known for its “art”, two examples of which I passed on my initial prowl across the terminal. (Yes, the use of quotes is deliberate.) The “art”work in the second image below is perhaps its best-known indoor landmark – one of sufficient notoriety to be given its own special mark on the airport map above.
Mm, thanks but no thanks. And it doesn’t matter that the hard-as-rock colossal bronze sculpture posing as a soft-as-cotton teddy bear is famous the world over. If you like this 6.8-million-dollar chunk of painted metal, good for you – I’ll have to respectfully disagree. 🙂
Ah, well…at least the architecture’s fantastic. That part I do like.
I wrote of “diversions” in the very first paragraph – well, this is mine. If you’re after luxury shops, DOH has got them in spades. If you’re chasing places to eat, you’ll find them. If you’re a fan of modern “art”…well, all the best with that (and yes DOH has got that too). For my part, I derived all the entertainment I needed simply by exploring this massive building with its countless nooks and crannies featuring all manner of architectural artifice and cunning design.
Yes, all very nice indeed…but I’ve got hours and hours left to waste on this layover and an architecture enthusiast’s stroll won’t stretch that long. Time to check into a more comfortable habitat.
Part 3: Kicking back in the Al Mourjan Lounge (COMING SOON)
Let’s leave this part out for the time being. I plan to write a detailed report covering the Al Mourjan Business Lounge (where I spent much of the layover), and once that’s published I’ll drop a link hereabouts along with a sampling of pictures.
***A brief update (04 July 2022): Here’s a link to the promised lounge report.***
So, moving on…
Part 4: Walking across DOH’s departures hall (again)
Well-rested and well-fed after my lounge visit, I felt no need to seek out a restaurant or active distraction of some sort. I just walked around to admire the architecture yet again.
Mm, yes, I really do love this building. (Shame about the “art”, but the building‘s really nice.)
Part 5: Waiting to board
With boarding time edging ever closer, I made my way over to Departures Concourse A and approached Gate A3.
From the (admittedly little) I’ve seen of other holding areas in DOH, A3’s layout appears to be typical of this airport’s larger boarding gates. Here we’ve got a large main entrance for general use…
…and a separate, smaller entrance at the other end for the exclusive use of First and Business Class passengers.
I went through the main entrance when I turned up for my flight, since it also had a dedicated priority lane that I could use with my Business Class ticket. (Also the smaller premium entrance looked unstaffed when I glanced at it moments earlier, and I didn’t want to risk the queues getting longer in case it was never opened.)
There was a security checkpoint just within the entrance where people and their belongings were swabbed for drug residues, and hand baggage was thoroughly checked. The inspections were carried out randomly (i.e., not everyone was pulled over) but from my observations, a good number – possibly more than half – did end up being frisked. I’m aware that UK-bound flights are subject to stricter security standards in airports the world over (like flights to the US), which probably explains the extra frisking.
Within the holding area, passengers were allocated seats based on boarding zone. I perched myself in the priority seating closest to the gate along with other passengers entitled to board first.
And that’s pretty much it for my transfer experience. All I had left to do at that point was enter the boarding pier, cross over the tarmac in the sheltered aerobridge, and get settled into the waiting plane.
There’s still the tale of my outbound DOH-LHR flight to tell, along with a full report covering the Al Mourjan Business Lounge. Further down the road, we’ll also speak of the two flights that funnelled me back through DOH on my return journey.
But I think we can stop here for now. 🙂
Oh, and one last thing…
…because someone’s bound to ask.
As of this writing, the use of face masks remains mandatory throughout the terminal (unless validly exempt or whilst eating and drinking).