Airline passengers with long connecting times between flights at Doha’s main airport have been encouraged to visit Qatar during a stopover, part of the country’s long-running push for more tourism.
But while the country is hosting the 2022 World Cup, passengers are prevented from accessing beyond the transit zone, even for several hours. They are not allowed to visit the capital and its tourist attractions and soak up the atmosphere of the 2022 World Cup.
Until the end of December, only people with tickets to the match are entitled to purchase the Hayya card, which is an identity document entitling them to enter Qatar. All other travelers are prohibited.
Humphrey Wilson planned an overnight stopover while visiting friends in the Qatari capital. He arranged a daytime flight from Johannesburg to London with a 15-hour overnight stopover at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
“It all sounded quite cultured,” he said. “We thought we’d visit friends for dinner tonight, have a nice rest and check in for our morning flight.”
But after buying plane tickets for himself and his wife, Wilson discovered that Qatar had become the first World Cup host nation to ban tourists during the tournament.
“We checked it before booking [Covid] testing requirements were lifted from November 1 and checked if we were eligible for visa-free entry.
“We haven’t seen this nonsense about the Hayya card anywhere,” he said. “It wasn’t until my friend who lives in Qatar mentioned it to me that I realized it.”
No match tickets were available at the time he booked the flight – although Fifa had opened sales for many thousands of them.
Mr Wilson asked about rebooking to reduce transit times and was told it would cost hundreds of pounds. Rooms at an airport transit hotel cost £200.
“The Qatari government sets all these rules and cheats us in the process,” he said.
On the day – and night – call, Mr Wilson said: “We were killing time with 15 hours where possible. The seats after exiting the plane and before security checks were deathly quiet. They tried to get us in but relented and we spent a few comfortable hours there. Charging sockets were available.”
The couple had requested to stay in one of the airport’s paid lounges, but it was very busy with six reclining seats occupied.
“We then had a nice lunch at the food court. Another good time killer and a good place to work on your laptop for a few hours.
“The airport was waving. We were advised to use the free “quiet room” to sleep in. They offer fixed sunbathing style seats and provide some comfort, although they would be much better if they were completely flat, allowing you to sleep on your side.
“Many people have started sleeping under them on the carpet because of it.
“Rooms are generally divided between men and women (annoying if you’re a couple) although there are a few mixed ‘family rooms’ we went to. Ear plugs and eye plugs are a must – we saved ours from a flight from Johannesburg – because the rooms are not terribly quiet and brightly lit.
“But we did get a few hours of sleep, which was a blessing.”
When the group stage ends on December 2, a large number of fans, media crews and activists will immediately leave the country with no one to replace them. The authorities belatedly announced that it would be possible to enter Qatar without a World Cup ticket.