Passengers with long connecting flights at Doha’s main airport have been encouraged to visit Qatar during their layover, as part of the country’s longstanding drive to boost tourism.
But while the country is hosting the 2022 World Cup, passengers are not allowed in 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 2022 World Cup atmosphere.
Until the end of December, only players with game tickets are eligible to purchase a Hayya card, the ID card that allows access to Qatar. All other travelers are blocked.
Humphrey Wilson, was planning an overnight stop to visit friends in the Qatar capital. He arranged a day flight from Johannesburg to London with a 15-hour overnight connection at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
“It all sounded pretty civilized,” he said. “We thought we’d visit some friends for dinner overnight, get a nice rest and check in for the morning flight.”
But after buying plane tickets for himself and his wife, Mr Wilson discovered that Qatar has become the first World Cup host country to ban tourists during the tournament.
“We checked that before booking [Covid] Testing requirements have been lifted from November 1st and verified that we were eligible for visa-free entry.
“We haven’t seen this Hayya card nonsense anywhere,” he said. “It was only when my friend who lives in Qatar asked me about it that I realized it.”
There were no tickets available for the game at the time he booked the flight – although Fifa has opened sales for many thousands.
Mr Wilson inquired about changing the booking to reduce transit time and was told it would cost hundreds of pounds. Rooms at the airport transit hotel were selling for £200.
“The government of Qatar is making all these rules and blaming us,” he said.
On the day – and night – of the connection, Mr Wilson said: “At 15 hours we’ve been killing time wherever we could. The seats after getting off the plane and before transfer security were dead quiet. They tried to guide us further but gave in and we spent a pleasant few hours there. Charging sockets were available.”
The couple asked to sit in one of the airport’s paid lounges, but it was very busy with the six lounge chairs all occupied.
“We then had a pleasant dinner at the food court. Another good time killer and a good place to spend a few hours working on a laptop.
“The airport was on the move. We were advised to use a free “Quiet Room” to sleep. These offer firm sunbath-style beds 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.
“For this reason, many people had taken to sleeping on the carpet underneath.
“Rooms are generally separated between males and females (irritating if you’re a couple), although there are a few mixed “family” rooms we’ve gone to.” Earplugs and eye protection are a must — we saved ours before flying out of Johannesburg — as the rooms aren’t particularly quiet or brightly lit.
“However, we managed to get several hours of sleep, which was a blessing.”
Once the group stage ends on December 2nd, a large number of fans, media teams and officials will immediately leave the country with no one to replace them. The authorities subsequently announced that it would be possible to enter Qatar without a World Cup ticket.