Hamad International, Qatar’s one year old airport, is the newest and nicest airplane parking lot in the Gulf. Officially, Hamad International retains the DOH airport code, but everyone calls it HIA for short.
1. Free Wifi
Yes. Access HIA’s free wifi anywhere in the terminal with just one click. There’s no time limit and you can connect with multiple devices. Note that internet at the airport, as in the rest of Qatar, is censored.
There are charging outlets throughout the building (three square prongs) but only some of them work.
If you don’t have your own device, you can get online at one of HIA’s entertainment pods. These pods have banks of iMacs for public use as well as TV viewing areas and play equipment for kids.
2. Train Connection To Somewhere Worth Seeing On A Four-Hour Layover
In 2019, inshallah. Qatar is building an extensive metro system prior to hosting the World Cup in 2022. The Red Line will connect HIA to Downtown Doha.
Right now, you need to drive or be driven to and from the airport. It’s a 20-30 minute taxi ride from the airport to West Bay, and the fare is about QR70 one way. There is an additional QR25 surcharge for taxi trips starting at the airport.
If you’re flying Qatar Airways and have a layover of at least five hours, the airline offers a free three hour city bus tour. The tour hits all the highlights: Souk Waqif, The Pearl, Katara and the Museum of Islamic Art. For better or worse, Doha is still small enough that you really can see all of the city’s major attractions in a couple hours.
If you have a shorter layover, there’s lots to do in the airport as well. HIA’s website is organized around type of visitor and length of stay to help you understand your options. You can pay to use the airport hotel’s gym and pool areas, or have a nap in a recliner in one of the glass ‘quiet rooms’.
If you are lucky enough to have access to the Qatar Airways flagship lounge, waste no time riding the double height escalator away from the unwashed. All of the Gulf airports excel at making the already privileged feel even more important.
Residents of Doha often drive to the airport because long term parking is currently free. On my latest trip, a security guard met me at the gate and had me complete a small form with my name, mobile number and number of days I planned to leave my car there. I was polite to him and he showed me to a very convenient parking spot. Flashing QR10 might get you the same treatment.
A shuttle bus will pick you up from one of the enclosed glass shelters and drive you to the terminal. I’ve never waited more than five minutes for the shuttle bus, but the schedule and route do seem to be fairly random. To be safe, allow 45 – 60 minutes from West Bay to the terminal if you’re driving and parking yourself.
When you return, follow the Coach Waiting signs to the shuttle bus stop. It’s not currently marked, but it’s the first bus bay to the left when you exit the building.
3. Duty Free Costs
Good for Americans. Or people buying in currency pegged to the US dollar, like the Qatari riyal. Prices are high right now for currencies like the Canadian dollar that are in oil-related free fall.
The duty free shopping at HIA is very good, as one would expect in a country where shopping is the national sport. Several duty free stores and designer boutiques carry a wide selection of cosmetics, clothes, bags, sunglasses, and jewelry. HIA duty free also stocks an extensive liquor selection but importing liquor into Qatar is not permitted so only buy booze if you are leaving Doha or transiting through.
1L Bombay Sapphire gin = QR80 (CAD$28)
Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum 50ml = QR379 (CAD$131)
4. Security Screening
So far, so good. I’ve heard horror stories about one hour waits at immigration, but I’ve been stamped in and out of the country six times now in less than 10 minutes. The queuing is efficient and there is always someone directing people to individual lines.
Immigration scans passports the conventional way but also takes photos (scans retinas?) with a high tech rectangular mirrored cameras. Feels like the future.
5. Ease of Orientation
Pretty good. The wayfinding signage in HIA is attractive, plentiful and bilingual. However the arrows and sign placement don’t always do a good job of telling people to go up or down a floor. There is small elevated train in the airport but right now it only moves supplies, so you need to get around the terminal on foot or request a golf cart transfer.
Only Qatar Airways flights are announced over the airport intercom so if you’re flying one of the ‘lesser’ airlines, get to your gate on time and keep an eye on the staff.
6. Pre-Flight Food
Good breakfast. So far I’ve only had coffee and breakfast at HIA and both were above average for airport food.
7. Architecture/Interior Design
Surprisingly tasteful. In a country that puts rhinestones and tassels on velvet and calls it good taste, HIA is a welcome departure from the design norm. From the outside, the terminal is a series of curved shapes in muted green glass, surrounded by palm trees. The building interior is a calming combination of glass, brushed metal and wood, marred only by two massive TV screens in the main atrium that flash advertising like a Vegas light show.
8. Most Exotic Destinations on the Departures Board
Najaf, Islamabad, Basra, Riyadh, and a lot of other places my parents don’t want me to visit.
Overall Rating for DOH: 81%