In Yahoo Travel’s new Airport Review series, we dissect everything you need to know — from check-in to takeoff to landing. Oh, and curious what it takes to get a perfect, five-star rating? A hotel beyond security check — and not many pass the test.
Hamad International Airport passenger terminal at sunset (Photo: HIA)
Airport Star Rating: 3 stars. Opened in April 2014, Hamad International Airport cost $16 billion and took 10 years to build — it has a shopping emporium with 70 retail outlets, 30 cafes and restaurants, a spa, two hotels, squash courts, and a public mosque. The airport is clean and efficient, yet it offers too many non-essentials (luxury shops, expensive art) and not enough of the must-have basics (seating, tasty food options).
Is it a mall? Is it an amusement park? No, it’s the new airport in Qatar! (Photo: Takahiro Hayashi/Flickr)
The Good: This brand-new, ultramodern airport replaced Doha International Airport and still carries the airport code DOH. Everything is contained in one sprawling, shiny terminal, and since long layovers are typical and many flights depart after midnight, the terminal is alive 24 hours a day and is equipped with high-end shopping and various curiosities. Wi-Fi is free.
The place can look a little sterile. (Photo: HIA)
The Bad: The airport manages to be both showy and aggressively antiseptic. The lack of seating is surprising for such opulence; you literally have to search to find a place to take a load off — and you may not be successful. At one point, several passengers and I were actually asked to leave some couches tucked away in an alcove. The opening of the airport was delayed several times, and to avoid the embarrassment of yet another missed opening date, Hamad began receiving guests before everything was buttoned down — and it’s still not perfect: Lounges, shower rooms, and a scheduled hotel may not be available for your arrival.
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge (Photo: HIA)
Lounging: Qatar Airways prides itself in on its 10,000-square-meter Al Mourjan Business Lounge, yet the area has been plagued by stories of limited access because it is not quite complete. Exclusively available to Qatar’s (and Oneworld’s) first-class and business-class passengers, at final build-out Al Mourjan will boast family rooms with leather sofas and widescreen TVs, private workstations, luxurious shower rooms, and quiet rooms. For dining, you can opt for buffet or à la carte; venues include brasseries, a deli, bar, and a patisserie.
It can be a long walk to your destination. (Photo: Chris Hoare/Flickr)
Walkability: Wear comfortable shoes. Corridors seem endless and anonymous, so it’s best to plan accordingly, noting landmarks. On the plus side, there are a lot of staff members around to direct lost passengers. A much-needed skytrain is under construction.
Interesting choice of art for the middle of an airport (Photo: Qatar Museums)
Public Spaces: The main point of orientation, and the landmark that everyone seems to remember and dislike, is the 23-foot-tall Urs Fischer sculpture of a teddy bear impaled by a giant desk lamp. Purchased by a member of the Qatar royal family for $6.8 million, the piece is both centrally located and decidedly disturbing. It’s one of 28 art installations; another is an animatronic T. rex behind glass. Cellphone service works best near the teddy bear; it’s spotty elsewhere. There’s an Apple station with free desktops (you have to stand), recliners (which are in high demand in this busy airport), showers, prayer rooms, and elaborate play areas for kids.
Yes, this is in the airport. (Photo: Patrick Ehrler/Flickr)
Charging: Best bet is the Apple station, as chairs (and outlets) are in short supply in the seating areas, which are often dark and unwelcoming.
Food: Considering that the terminal is so vast, the bright and plasticy food court feels disappointingly cramped and chaotic, more adequate than upscale. Quality isn’t great, but for human fuel (sandwiches, salads, fresh fruit, pastries, coffee) there’s Soho Coffee, Camden Food Company, Red Mango, Jamocha Café (a local Qatari chain), Farggi, and Marché.
Transportation: Coach services are offered by hotels to transport passengers to and from the airport. Taxicabs (owned by the state-owned company, Mowasalat; be sure to have local currency) and limousine services are also available outside the airport for those who choose to head out into the city on their own, as are rental cars. (A valid international driver’s license and a credit card are required to rent a car.)
Chocology: Gourmet treats on the go. (Photo: Qatar Airways/Facebook)
Shopping: Global fashionistas can get their fix at Junction (Diesel, Desigual, Versace jeans), Esquire (men’s boutique), Harrods, Hugo Boss, Tiffany, Michael Kors, and Hermes. Boulevard and GMT Watches carry timepieces and accessories. (Rolex, Chanel Watches and Tag Heuer have also planted flags here.) Chocology and Marmalade Market stock specialty gourmet items, while Bumble Tree and the Cedar Room offer gadgets and fine cigars, respectively. Pulse electronics store is a lifesaver if you’ve lost your charger.
Summary: Assuming that the Al Mourjan Business Lounge lives up to its advance billing, Hamad International Airport will offer a swell time for those who can afford luxury and a bewildering experience for everyone else.
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