Airline passengers with long connecting times between flights at Doha’s main airport enjoy unlimited access to alcohol at lounges and duty-free shops.
But as Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup, they have no access to the country beyond the staging area, even for a few hours. They are not allowed to visit the capital and its tourist attractions, and soak up the atmosphere of the 2022 World Cup.
Only fans with match tickets have the right to acquire a Hayya card, the identification permit that allows access to Qatar. All other travelers are prohibited.
One passenger, Humphrey Wilson, has planned an overnight stopover to visit friends in the Qatari capital.
He organized a daytime flight from Johannesburg to Hamad International Airport in Doha with a connection to Gatwick 15 hours later.
“It all seemed pretty civilized,” he said. “We thought we’d visit friends overnight for dinner, rest well and check in for the morning flight.”
But after buying plane tickets for himself and his wife, Mr Wilson discovered that Qatar had become the first World Cup host country to ban tourists during the tournament.
“We checked before booking that [Covid] testing requirements were waived from 1 November and verified that we were eligible for visa-free entry.
“Nowhere have we seen this Hayya card nonsense,” he said. “It was only when my friend who lives in Qatar told me about it that I realized.”
At the time, no match tickets were available, although Fifa later opened the sale of several thousand of them.
Mr Wilson inquired about changing the booking to reduce transit time and was told it would cost hundreds of pounds. Airport transit hotel rooms were selling for £200.
“The Qatari government makes all these rules and swindles us in the process,” he said.
On the day – and night – of the connection, Mr Wilson said: “With 3 p.m., we killed time as much as possible. The seats after getting off the plane and before the transfer security checks were quiet. They tried to guide us but relented and we spent a comfortable few hours there. Charging sockets were available.
The couple asked to stay in one of the airport’s chargeable lounges, but it was busy with all six recliners occupied.
“We then had a pleasant dinner at the food court. Another good time killer and a good place to work on a laptop for a few hours.
“The airport was crowded. We were advised to use a free “quiet room” to sleep. These offer stationary sun lounger style recliners and allow for some form of comfort, although they would be much better if they lay completely flat, allowing side sleeping.
“Many people for this reason had taken to sleeping under them on the mat.
“Rooms are generally separated between male and female (irritating, if you’re a couple) although there are mixed ‘family rooms’ where we’ve been. Earplugs and eye shields are a must – we saved ours from the flight from Johannesburg – as the rooms aren’t very quiet and have lots of light.
“We did manage to get several hours of sleep though, which was a blessing.”
Once the group stage ends on December 2, a large number of fans, media teams and officials will immediately leave the country, with no one to replace them. Belatedly, the authorities said that access to Qatar without a ticket for the World Cup would be possible.