The coming week will be a very busy one at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (HIA).
The beginning of the long-awaited school winter break, the National Day holiday and the proximity of Christmas will all combine to bring about “a rapid increase in passengers,” HIA’s management has told Doha News.
This is the new airport’s first winter travel season, and despite the expected flying frenzy, it’s likely to be a more comfortable experience for travelers than last December, when over two million passengers squeezed and queued their way through Doha International Airport, a facility that was universally acknowledged to have stretched beyond capacity several times over.
There’s no doubt that HIA dwarfs the old airport. Its Twitter account boasts that 3,550 Land Cruisers could fit into the check-in hall alone. But there are still a few crunch points, like immigration and security, that are expected to feel the pressure at peak times this winter.
Here’s what you need to know to make your journey as smooth and stress-free as possible.
The airport’s long term parking will remain free throughout the winter holidays. A free shuttle bus from the parking lot to the terminal operates at regular intervals.
The short-term car park is also free for the first 30 minutes, and then costs QAR5 for each subsequent hour.
If you’d like to make sure that your slightly travel-worn suitcase doesn’t spring open halfway across Europe, a baggage wrap service, Seal and Go, is now available in the departures hall by check-in rows two and eight.
If possible, make sure to check-in online in advance to select your seat, as some popular flights are likely to be overbooked. Qatar Airways passengers can do so 36 hours prior to departure, except those flying to the US, who can check-in 24 hours before they leave.
HIA’s Chief Operation Officer Badr Al Meer has said passengers should arrive at the airport three hours before their flight departure time during busy periods “to ensure a smooth and relaxed experience before flying.”
He also recommended that passengers print their boarding passes before arriving at HIA to reduce their check-in time upon arrival. Note too this tweet from frequent flyer Paul McCormick:
— Paul McCormick (@_PaulMcCormick) November 27, 2014
Even if you’ve already checked in, it might be prudent to arrive far in advance of your flight, as it’s hard to estimate the queues at security and immigration, which can be incredibly slow at peak times.
It’s also worth noting that some of the airport’s gates are a long walk away from immigration, so allow for plenty of time.
We asked our followers on Twitter to give us their tips on traveling through the airport, and lots of them recommended getting hold of an e-gate card.
These allow residents to pass through automated gates at immigration, bypassing long queues. Details of how to obtain one can be found here. They cost QR150 for a year, QR250 for two years and QR350 for three.
It’s important to note, however, that children are not eligible for e-gate cards, meaning that adults traveling with kids are often forced to queue, despite signing up for service.
Lastly, to avoid hold ups and disappointment at the airport, make sure you triple check all of your documentation before you travel. It’s incredibly easy to overlook an expired residence permit or absent exit permit, only to arrive at the airport to find you’re denied permission to leave.
Those feeling nervous about the validity of their exit permits can double-check using this handy online tool by inputting their Qatar ID numbers – great for peace of mind before you fly.
More than 70 shops are now open at HIA.
Recently opened outlets include luxury international brands Giorgio Armani, Armani Junior, Coach, Hugo Boss and Mont Blanc, as well as Al Motahajiba, which sells designer abayas and shaylas.
Here’s a map of the airport’s shops and restaurants.
The airport also continues to open new food outlets.
Relatively new additions include Italian restaurant Soprafino, run in conjunction with celebrity chef Massimo Capra; Qataf Café, named after the Qatari national flower, which serves up Arabic snacks and coffee; and French bistro Le Grand Comptoir, which features pianist accompaniment in the evening.
Passengers traveling through HIA in its early days used to complained about a lack of ATMs. This now seems to have been sorted, with 16 multi-currency ATMs now dotted around the site.
There’s also a new Travelex counter in the check-in hall between rows 8 and 9, in addition to the existing counter in airside departures by the Oryx lounge.
After initial delays, HIA has now opened more than 20 individual lounges.
These include the Al Mourjan Business Class lounge for Qatar Airways First and Business Class passengers (pictured above) and the pay-per-use Oryx Lounge, which offers complimentary food and drink, a business center and a games room for kids. Economy Class passengers can gain access to the facility for QR140 (US$38).
Rest and relaxation
If you’ve got a bit of time to kill, the airport offers quiet rooms for men and women in departures. And if you’ve got a lot of time, there’s now the option of the airport hotel, which opened in September.
Rooms here can be booked for periods as short as four hours for QR560 (US$153). More details can be found on the hotel’s website here.
Attached to the hotel are the airport’s spa, gym, swimming pool and squash courts.
Access to these are free for hotel customers, or accessible to non-customers for a fee of QR120 (US$33).
Do you have any other tips? Please comment below to share your advice with travelers.