Air passengers with long connecting times between flights at Doha’s main airport have been encouraged to visit Qatar during their stopovers, part of the country’s long-running push to boost tourism.
But while the country hosts the 2022 World Cup, passengers have no access outside the transit area, even for a few hours. They are not allowed to visit the capital and its tourist attractions, and enjoy the WC 2022 atmosphere.
Until the end of December, only those with match tickets are entitled to obtain a Hayya card, the ID permit that grants access to Qatar. All other travelers are banned.
Humphrey Wilson, planned an overnight stay to visit friends in the Qatari capital. He arranged a daytime flight from Johannesburg to London with a 15-hour overnight connection at Doha’s Hamad International Airport.
“It all sounded pretty civilized,” he said. “We thought we’d visit some friends overnight to have dinner, relax and check in for the morning flight.”
But after buying the plane tickets for himself and his wife, Mr Wilson discovered that Qatar has become the first World Cup nation to ban tourists during the tournament.
“We checked before we booked it [Covid] test requirements were lifted from 1 November, and checked that we were eligible for visa-free entry.
“Nowhere did we see this Hayya card nonsense,” he said. “It was only when my friend who lives in Qatar mentioned it to me that I understood.”
At the time he booked the flight, no match tickets were available – although Fifa has opened sales of many thousands of them.
Mr Wilson asked about changing the order to reduce the transport time and was told it would cost hundreds of pounds. Rooms at the airport transit hotel were sold for £200.
“The Qatari government is making all these rules and fooling us in the process,” he said.
On the day – and night – of the connection, Wilson said: “With 15 hours, we killed time where possible. The seats after getting off the plane and before the transfer were quiet. They tried to lead us on but gave in and we spent a couple of comfortable hours there. Charging sockets were available.”
The couple asked to stay in one of the airport’s paid lounges, but it was very busy with the six recliners all occupied.
“We then had a nice dinner at the food court. Another good time killer, and a good place to work on a laptop for a couple of hours.
“The airport collapsed. We were advised to use a free “quiet room” to sleep. These offer fixed sunbed style recliners and allow for some form of comfort, although they would be far better if they were completely flat, allowing one to sleep on one’s side.
“Many people for this reason had taken to sleeping under them on the carpet.
“The rooms are generally separated between men and women (annoying, if you’re a couple), although there are some mixed ‘family rooms’ which is where we went. Earplugs and eye protection are a must – we saved ours from the flight from Johannesburg – as the rooms are not very quiet and are brightly lit.
“However, we managed to sleep for several hours, which was a blessing.”
When the group stage ends on December 2, a large number of fans, media teams and officials will immediately leave the country, with no one to replace them. Too late, the authorities have said that access to Qatar without a WC ticket will be possible.