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First Impressions of Doha's Sparkling New Hamad International Airport

Where: Doha, Qatar
July 28, 2014 at 11:07 AM | by | Comments (5)

If you want to get a sense of how much the Middle East has become a key gateway for international air travel (and feel incredibly small in the process), a visit to Doha’s vast Hamad International Airport (DOH) will do the trick.

We transferred here during some recent travels, only weeks after the much-delayed airport opened its doors, and were suitably impressed by the soaring roofs and seemingly endless gates surrounded by an abundance of space, though not everything was quite as it should be.

If you ever had the pleasure of visiting the old Doha Airport, you'd have experienced the delight of being bussed from terminal to plane in desert heat. Yeah, not fun. The new Hamad and its 50-million-passenger per year capacity should have eliminated that; alas, imagine our disappointment on our first visit to Hamad when, after taking the escalator down to our gate, we descended into absolute chaos with hundreds of passengers camped out on every inch of floor space in front of several bus gates.

It was mayhem, and this being close to midnight did nothing to lift our mood, nor did the chaotic boarding process that followed. We managed to make our way to the priority lane (we were luckily in business class), but were first shepherded onto the wrong bus, then later plucked out of it and moved to a separate premium bus. A track out to a remote gate and a schlep up a set of stairs concluded a not-so-great first experience.

Our next visit started off much better, at the premium entrance you see above for Business and First Class.

It was very quiet, with a range of seating areas on the left and a long line of assistance and bag-drop desks on the right. We only had hand luggage and our boarding pass on us, so we zoomed straight through to security and passport control. This didn’t take much time either, and was much quieter than the frantic transfer security we had encountered before, where if it not had been for our access to a premium line, we would have easily spent over an hour in line. We sincerely hope this bottleneck was only a hiccup which could be blamed on grand opening snafus.

This picture, taken one floor up near the entrance to the (temporary) Business and First Class lounges, shows you just how high those ceilings are—high enough to comfortably fit some palm trees. And yes, that is a giant yellow teddy bear melded together with a black lamp.

It is a sculpture by Urs Fischer and was previously in front of the Seagram building on New York’s Park Avenue. It was acquired by a member of the Qatari royal family for $6.8 million and weighs 35,000 pounds. Uhm, right.

Giant video screens showed non-stop promotions for Qatar Airways, with Brazil’s Neymar winking at us on a loop, still blissfully unaware of the events to come during the World Cup. Despite the hiccups, we enjoyed the chance to transfer and experience Hamad International for arrivals and departures, if only for that oddly romantic feeling that comes from being at a far away, exotic airport—that of being a tiny part of the thousands and thousands of people traversing the globe at that moment.

[Photos: JasonD]

Comments (5)

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That's it in a nut shell!

"... if only for that oddly romantic feeling that comes from being at a far away, exotic airport--that of being a tiny part of the thousands and thousands of people traversing the globe at that moment."

The suckwagon(s).

Having lived in Doha for a little over two years, the buses did my head in. Nothing like getting in from a long haul and then having to get on the bus. I'm glad to hear things are marginally better, but cannot believe the buses are still in use. Can't say I miss Do'hole one bit!

Only $15.5 Billion

You'd think that if you're spending $15.5 Billion (in USD), you'd manage to find a way to ditch remote gates with buses. That's embarrassing for both the airport and the architecture firm: HOK.

HOK is also responsible for the blunder that is the Long Beach (CA) terminal modernization project. Sure, the terminal is infinitively better than the portables. But, despite what the song says, it does sometimes rain in California.

If you want to make flying even more miserable, do it wet because you got trapped on the stairs in the rain because the line stops while someone tries to make room for their oversized carry-on in an already full overhead compartment.


Doha

The bus itself, but mostly the way it was managed was a shocker. It just felt so disorganized and amateurish, as said not what you'd expect for that kind of cash. We were going to make a hokey DOH at DOH airport joke but decided we were better than that. And yes, as corny as it sounds, it's nice to stop and notice sometimes how crazy it actually is to be constantly flying around the world. You take off, you fly, you land, you take off, you fly, you land. All the tails of the various airlines and countries together, the interconnectedness of it all. Anyway.

Holy...

That is one pricey airport. At that price, I really hope they focused on functionality and getting travelers through as efficiently as possible and not just on making it look fancy.

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