By Victoria Scott
Hamad International Airport (HIA) has been awarded five-star status by Skytrax.
This makes Qatar’s airport one of only six globally to be given the accolade, and the first in the Middle East to nab the honor.
Speaking to media yesterday, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker — whose airline manages the airport — said that HIA was “designed and built in the modern era, taking into account what passengers want most: convenience and service.”
Congratulations @HIAQatar on entering the elite list of airports classified as
"5 Stars Airports".
1 out of 6 only in the world 👏🏻🌎🇶🇦 pic.twitter.com/KN3ujhEkjj
— Al Mayassa Al Thani (@almayassahamad) January 5, 2017
The other Skytrax 5-star airports are Hong Kong International, Munich, Seoul Incheon, Singapore Changi and Tokyo Haneda.
Skytrax ranks HIA’s regional rival Abu Dhabi International as four-star, Dubai International is three stars.
According to the Skytrax website, the London-based company rates airports via “a detailed quality analysis” of almost 500 “airport product and service items.”
Factors that are taken into account include departures, transfers, customer service, security, immigration, shopping outlets and food and beverage facilities.
However, Skytrax does not explain how the evaluations are carried out, or by whom. Its website states that this information is only disclosed to airport operators.
Hamad International Airport Enters Elite Category by Being Classified as "5 Star airport" as one of only six airports in the World. pic.twitter.com/6YiBRdohzt
— Hamad Int'l Airport (@HIAQatar) January 5, 2017
Five-star Skytrax status notwithstanding, many passengers still appear to be lukewarm about Qatar’s airport experience.
In addition to its own ratings, Skytrax lists ratings for airports and airlines around the world on its website that are based on passenger feedback.
According to that, HIA is 6/10, putting it in the same group as airports like Hamburg, Hyderabad, Rotterdam and Malta.
Recent customer reviews on the Skytrax site give HIA high scores for cleanliness, WiFi connectivity and shopping options.
But the airport got poor marks for having long lines at immigration and security.
On Jan. 2, 2017, passenger J. Grimshaw shared this experience of arriving at HIA:
“We waited almost 2.5 hours at immigration. It was an absolute disgrace. The lines were so long they exceeded the roped off queuing areas.
Mums and dads were struggling with exhausted children, carrying them for hours. We have never had such a bad experience.”
Other passengers describe the queues for transit travelers at security as “a nightmare, everyone in a rush and cramming through” and the queues at immigration as “a clear example of excellent infrastructure but (an) extraordinarily poorly managed airport.”
Last year, Al Baker attributed the delays to staff shortages.
He said that his airline and the Ministry of Interior — whose staff man the immigration desks — were “trying to resolve the issue as a team.”
In recent weeks, the MOI has made changes to the e-gate system so that expat travelers over the age of 18 no longer need to register and pay for the service.
This allows many people to skip immigration queues. However, adults traveling with children and expats without residence permits must still wait in line.