Airline passengers with long connection times between flights at Doha’s main airport have been encouraged to visit Qatar during their stopover, part of the country’s longstanding drive for more tourism.
But while the country hosts the World Cup 2022, passengers have no access beyond the transit area, even for a few hours. They are not allowed to visit the capital and its tourist attractions, and soak up the World Cup 2022 atmosphere.
Until the end of December, only those with match tickets are entitled to acquire a Hayya card, the ID permit that allows access to Qatar. All other travellers are banned.
Humphrey Wilson, planned an overnight stopover visiting 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 rather civilised,” he said. “We figured we would visit some friends overnight for dinner, have a nice rest and check in for the morning flight.”
But after buying the flight tickets for himself and his wife, Mr Wilson discovered Qatar has become the first World Cup host nation to ban tourists during the tournament.
“We checked before booking that [Covid] testing requirements were being 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 realised.”
At the time he booked the flight, no match tickets were available – though Fifa has opened sales on many thousands of them.
Mr Wilson enquired about changing the booking to reduce the transit time and was told it would cost hundreds of pounds. Rooms at the transit hotel in the airport were selling at £200.
“The Qatari government are making all these rules and fleecing us in the process,” he said.
On the day – and night – of the connection, Mr Wilson said: “With 15 hours we killed time wherever possible. The seats after getting off the plane and before transfer security checks were dead quiet. They did try to usher us on but relented and we spent a comfortable couple of hours there. Charging sockets were available.”
The couple asked about staying in one of the airport’s paid lounges, but it was very busy with the six reclining chairs all occupied.
“We then had a pleasant dinner at the food court. Another good time killer, and good place to work on a laptop for a couple of hours.
“The airport was heaving. We were advised to use a free ‘Quiet Room’ for sleeping. These offer sunbathing-style fixed recliners and allow some form of comfort, although they would be far better if they were completely flat, which would allow one to sleep on one’s side.
“Many people for this reason had taken to sleeping underneath them on the carpet.
“The rooms are generally segregated between men and women (irritating, if you’re a couple) although there are some mixed ‘family rooms’ which is where we went. Ear plugs and eye cover are a must – we saved ours from the flight from Johannesburg – as the rooms are not terribly quiet and are brightly lit.
“We managed to sleep for several hours however, which was a blessing.”
Once the group stage ends on December 2, large number of fans, media teams and officials will immediately leave the country, with no one to replace them. Belatedly, the authorities have said that access to Qatar without a World Cup ticket will be possible.