Qatari passengers were shocked to find they could not leave the airport

Airline passengers with long connecting times at Doha’s main airport are being encouraged to visit Qatar during their layover, part of the country’s long-running push for more tourism.

But while the country is hosting the 2022 World Cup, passengers have no access beyond the transit area, even for a few hours. They are not allowed to visit the capital and its tourist attractions and enjoy the atmosphere of the 2022 World Cup.

Until the end of December, only those with match tickets are eligible to obtain a Hayya card, the ID permit that allows access to Qatar. All other travelers are prohibited.

Humphrey Wilson planned a stopover to visit friends in the Qatari capital. He arranged a day flight from Johannesburg to London with a 15 hour overnight stay at Hamad International Airport in Doha.

“It all sounded rather civilized,” he said. “We thought we’d visit some friends at night for dinner, rest, and check in for the morning flight.”

But after buying the plane tickets for himself and his wife, Mr Wilson discovered that Qatar had become the first World Cup host nation to ban tourists during the tournament.

“We checked before booking [Covid] The testing requirements were lifted as of November 1st and we were verified to be eligible for visa-free entry.

“Nowhere did we see this Hayya card nonsense,” he said. “It was only when my friend who lives in Qatar mentioned it to me that I understood.”

At the time he booked the flight, there were no match tickets available – although FIFA has put many thousands of them on sale.

Mr Wilson asked to change the booking to reduce transit time and was told it would cost hundreds of pounds. Rooms at the transit hotel at the airport were selling for £200.

“The Qatari government is making all these rules and they are abolishing us in the process,” he said.

On the day – and night – of the connection, Mr Wilson said: “With 15 hours we killed time where possible. The seats after getting off the plane and before the transportation security checks were quiet. They tried to lead us, but gave way, and we spent a few comfortable hours there. There were charging sockets available.”

The couple asked to stay in one of the airport’s paid lounges, but it was too busy with the six reclining chairs all occupied.

“Afterwards we had a pleasant dinner in the food court. Another good time killer, and good place to work on a laptop for a few hours.

“The airport was burning. We were advised to use a free “Quiet Room” for sleeping. These offer firm sunbeds and allow for some form of comfort, although it would be much better if they were completely flat, which would allow one to sleep on their side.

“Many people for this reason had taken to sleeping under them on the carpet.

“The rooms are generally separated between men and women (annoying if you’re a couple) although there are a few mixed ‘family rooms’ where we went. Earplugs and eye covering are essential – we saved ours from the flight from Johannesburg – as the rooms are not terribly quiet and brightly lit.

“We managed to get several hours of sleep though, which was a blessing.”

Once the group stage ends on December 2, large numbers of fans, media groups and officials will leave the country immediately, with no one to replace them. Belatedly, authorities said access to Qatar without a World Cup ticket would be possible.

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