Doha’s Hamad International Airport is ground zero for Qatar Airways, and it is impressively sprawling and modern and huge. But with Qatar now flying to over 150 cities (like, who knew Qatar serves Cardiff, Wales?), HIA just doesn’t have a enough gates. Consequently, even long haul flights like our A350 Philly-Doha often get parked on a tarmac stand. This is my fifth time connecting through Hamad, and my ninth Qatar flight, and I think only twice did the inbound flight pull up to a gate.
Parking on a stand wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for Qatar daytime temps often exceeding 100° F. The desert heat whacked us hard as we struggled down the antiquated airstairs with our carry-on luggage.
The buses waiting on the ramp to take us to the terminal were greenhouses on wheels, as hot or even hotter inside than on the tarmac. No amount of A/C can tame the ferocious Middle Eastern sun burning through all that window glass. I was lucky to be one of the last to board our special “Business Class passengers only” bus, and thus minimized being cooked as the bus waited to fill.
Apart from the heat and the bother, there is the intrinsic delay caused by using stands rather than gates. Qatar Airways’ customer base counts on being able to reliably connect to and from all those 150 places. Parking on the ramp always means a long time to deplane and enplane, and thus threatens connection integrity if the inbound flight isn’t on time.
Once inside the HIA terminal, all transfer passengers were required to go through a TSA-style screening before being allowed to find their connecting gates–or, in my case, the respite of the Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge. Recalling from past trips that all pockets must be emptied, I put everything in a carry-on bag before we landed. Off come belts, watches, and shoes, too, at the security screen.
On previous trips, the premium cabin crowd (Business and First Class) joined any line to endure the security gauntlet, a leveling glitch in the “I’m elite, and you’re not” parsing of airline customers. But no more. I was directed to an area catering only to Business and First Class passengers. Those lines were far less crowded, and therefore faster and less stressful, though unlike TSA PRE-check, we still had to remove belts, shoes, and watches.
Finally I walked past Hamad Airport’s iconic giant teddy bear and took the airport’s two-story escalator to the Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge. Boarding passes were officiously scanned at the bottom. Keeping out the hoi polloi, I thought, until I heard a uniformed Qatari scolding a gentleman about my age that oneworld Business Class flyers who are on carriers other than Qatar Airways are NOT allowed in the lounge, regardless of top elite level. This fellow showed his Executive Platinum AAdvantage card in addition to a Business Class boarding pass on another oneworld partner, but he got nowhere. I smiled to myself.
Of course if that fellow was an American Express Platinum Card holder, then he was also in possession of the indispensable Priority Pass card, which gets passengers into hundreds of airport clubs worldwide (though sadly not at RDU). Priority Pass works at the Al Maha Transit Lounge at Hamad International near what the airport calls the Teddy Bear Area. And with the Priority Pass, it doesn’t matter if you flew in Coach or Business: You are still welcome.
Speaking of coach, I walked back into the Economy Class cabin on the Qatar A350 en route into Doha and tried out several empty seats. It’s sure not Business Class, but those Qatar coach seats were discernibly more comfortable and spacious front-to-back than on U.S. carriers, and they reclined more, too. That said, they are no wider than any other airline’s coach seats.
I wolfed down a tasty Norwegian smoked salmon sandwich in one of the Business Class Lounge dining areas before retiring to the quiet rooms to wait out my connection. The lounge is phenomenal in its many amenities (e.g., two large areas for showers) and offerings of food (at least two large dining areas, and I think I missed a third one on the upper level) as well as being larger than many U.S. regional airports. Except for Emirates in Dubai, I’ve never seen its equal.
Given how crowded the Hamad airport terminal is with all the places Qatar now serves around the globe, I was glad to have the lounge to hide out in for a few hours.
Not enough gates; not enough room even in a humongous terminal; and still adding to its worldwide network: How, I wonder, is Qatar Airways planning for Hamad International to cope with its organic growth? It’s already bursting at the seams.