The Sad State of Transit at Doha Airport

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While I’m a fan of Qatar Airways’ onboard product, I’m not as much a fan of how the airline is on the ground. In 2017 I transited Doha Airport for the first time, right when Qatar Airways was starting to gain popularity. I found the lounge to be a little soulless, but at the time it had all the things I’d look for in an airport lounge. I also thought the airport was cool, since it was architecturally impressive.

Now that I’ve been to Doha Airport a second time, suffice to say that my impression of the airport has changed. Doha Airport is no longer a pleasant airport to transit through, and I’d aim for a layover of two hours if a stopover wasn’t possible. Over the past couple of years as Qatar Airways developed into a smashing success, Doha Airport has gone from being an aviation superpower to simply being a transit factory.

The gimmicks are still there. The centerpiece of the airport continues to be a huge teddy bear under interrogation, as there’s a lamp stuck “into” its head (in order to prop the bear up, though it certainly feels a little gruesome).

Doha Airport Teddy Bear

Furthermore, near the E gates there’s a huge wooden statue based off Small Lie by KAWS, which was unveiled in March 2018.

Small Lie by KAWS Statue Doha Airport

Well, apart from being Instagram-worthy, there aren’t many redeeming qualities about Doha Hamad Airport, unfortunately.

Firstly, there are some serious issues with capacity control at this airport. It’s pretty clear that Qatar Airways will continue expanding hereon out, and they’ll need more and more slots at Doha Hamad Airport. While only one out of my four flights from Doha Airport this trip required a bus gate, we also taxied past many widebody aircraft that were deplaning or boarding their passengers by bus. Being a business class passenger, we had dedicated buses, so that wasn’t too unpleasant; though I wouldn’t want to be an economy passenger crammed onto a bus after a 16-hour flight. This is especially true due to Doha’s heat year-round – if I were transiting Doha Airport to get to my ski resort destination, I wouldn’t want to be blasted with the sweltering Doha heat while standing in my winter clothes.

The thing that blows my mind is that Hamad Airport opened in 2014. That’s merely 5 years ago. Hong Kong’s current airport opened in 1998, and even then they’ve been able to ration their expansion plans – I don’t remember the last time I’ve boarded a widebody plane at Hong Kong Airport from a bus gate. That being said, there’s no easy fix for this, and other airports use bus gates too, so it isn’t the biggest complaint I have here.

Qatar Airways widebody planes deplaning by bus Doha Airport

Once you do get through to the terminal, there’s usually a long transit line for economy passengers, though there’s a separate line for first and business class passengers which isn’t quite as long. Either way, the greatest asset to this airport are probably the customs staff – while they’re not friendly by any means (I’d have my RBF on too if I were dealing with so many passengers 24/7), they’re definitely efficient, and I was through in a matter of minutes. Despite that, the first and business class line isn’t checked, nor is your onward boarding pass – I specifically took my boarding pass out for an agent to check it, and he said “no need”. An economy class passenger or an arriving passenger could easily have passed through the first and business class transit security line.

Another complaint I have is that the signage around Doha Airport is terrible. I’ve been to the Al Mourjan lounge before, but even then I had a big issue trying to find the correct escalator that got me into the lounge. While I saw a lot of signs overhead that had “Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge” on it, all of these signs pointed me in different directions, and it took me a long time to find the correct escalator. The slanted pillars around the central concourse area certainly didn’t help either, as I occasionally mistook them as escalators (well, at least in groggy 5 AM/2 AM mode).

Due to Qatar Airways’ cheap promo fares during the summer, I wasn’t too surprised by how packed the lounge was. You might be, though, when you see a line forming by the bottom of the escalator headed towards the Al Mourjan lounge. Boarding passes are scanned at the bottom of the escalator that heads upwards towards the lounge, so you’re promptly admitted entry once you enter the lounge (though the agent couldn’t scan my mobile boarding pass properly during my outbound transit, so she said over a walkie-talkie “we need to rescan the boy with the black bag” – on the plus side, the man who rescanned my boarding pass at the lounge desk was really nice, and asked me how my day was).

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge Doha Entrance

Qatar Airways’ lounge at Doha is architecturally impressive due to the high ceilings, though that’s where my compliments end now. Firstly, it’s hard to find a seat, especially during peak hour (which is around 5 AM-6 AM and 11 PM-3 AM, since Qatar Airways “aligns” their flight arrival and departure times from Doha to minimise transit time).

Below is a picture I took in 2017, followed by a similar picture I took this year. You’ll notice a big difference in the size of the crowd, despite both pictures being taken at pretty much the exact same time (around 6:15 AM). In both cases you’ll realise that the seats in the lonuge are actually somewhat impractically designed, as there’s no way families can sit together – there’s a separate family area with shared couches, though ALL of the seats in the main area are configured this way, which is pretty annoying. While some chairs in the “elevated platform” do face each other, it’s almost impossible to make conversation in them, since the chairs are placed so far apart.

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge crowd: before vs. after

The deli is a better place for families to sit together, as the chairs are laid out restaurant-style, which means families of 4 can be seated together, parties of 2 can make conversation across each other/next to each other, etc.. That being said, it was also extremely crowded (and this is the only place that serves a-la-carte dining throughout the lounge, which has been reduced down to just sandwiches due to cost cuts).

There’s table service – in theory. In reality, the few waiters staffed there were so overworked that we didn’t really get any table service unless we intentionally walked across the room to flag someone down.

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge Doha Deli

In addition, there’s a bar, though they’ve cut their cocktails down to a single drink – the rainbow (which is bleh). There’s champagne and all, though the legal drinking age in Qatar is 21, so I stuck to water.

There are also shower rooms at the lounge, which I was able to use last time. The waits for shower rooms were over an HOUR long. I didn’t have enough time to shower despite having a 3-hour connection on my outbound transit (admittedly we were delayed a bit, though we still had over two hours to spare) – I didn’t even bother trying to ask for a shower room on my return segment, despite the fact that I’d really have appreciated a shower. Don’t expect to be able to take a shower at the Al Mourjan lounge.

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge Doha Shower Room

I haven’t even reached my biggest complaint yet. The WiFi across the entire airport was terrible. Through Speedtest.net, I measured a download speed of 0.08 Mbps down and 1.29 Mbps up, with a ping of 105 ms. Qatar Airways features better WiFi on their planes than their hub airport does on the ground. The reason for this is simple – they started off with a stable WiFi connection, though as the number of passengers using the airport grew significantly, the broadband was stretched out thinner than a sheet of paper. The Al Mourjan lounge also shares the airport WiFi, so there’s no improvement in the lounge compared to across the rest of the terminal.

The WiFi across the airport was so bad that it basically wasn’t working by the E gates (where my return flight to Hong Kong departed from). It worked a bit better by the A/B gates, though the speeds there were still subpar. This is especially unacceptable given how big of a transit hub Doha Airport has grown to, and most people won’t have a cellular plan while transiting through the airport.

Bottom Line

Qatar Airways may have an award winner with their cabin product, though the airline’s popularity really came at the detriment of their airport. It’s clear that Hamad Airport was built with the intention of being impressive for a small amount of passengers, and they really didn’t have growth in mind at the time. Now that Doha Airport serves more than 35 million passengers per year (that number is expected to grow by a further 7 million by the end of this year), their airport has simply turned into a transit warehouse. I’d actually avoid Hamad Airport if it weren’t for Qatar Airways’ cheap prices, and their otherwise spectacular business class product.

There’s one thing that needs to be said, though. The ability of Hamad Airport to grow to such a stage shows resilience, given their blockade with all of the other countries around them. It’s cool that even though Qatar’s neighbouring countries have turned against them, the biggest problem with this airport is that there are too many passengers, as opposed to too little.

Have you transited Hamad Airport before? Did you have a similarly unpleasant experience?

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One thought on “The Sad State of Transit at Doha Airport

  1. Just back from BCN via DOH and cant agree more about the wifi speed! its basically non-usable!
    However, regarding shower rooms, i managed to grab one once upon arrival the lounge around 4ish pm. Its not yet properly cleaned and way too hot though. Not so enjoyable.

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