I'm currently sitting in the international departure lounge of Doha International Airport in Qatar in the Middle East. It's old, it's rundown and the modern technology and extra services you come to expect, if you often fly internationally as I do, simply don't exist in Doha. If you're going to be traveling through Doha International Airport (DIA) in Qatar, here's what you should expect and, let me warn you, it's not pretty.
The Long Bus Ride at Doha International Airport - The first thing you'll notice upon arrival at Doha International Airport (DIA) is the long bus ride. Passengers on every flight are disembarked on the tarmac then bused into the main airport buildings. With at least four stops at different terminals along the way, just to get from the plane to the transit building is a 15-20 minute bus ride - standing all the way. For people who are going to the satellite buildings, the ride is even longer.
The Color Code System -When you check in at an airport anywhere in the world for a flight to Doha, you're assigned a color coded ticket and hand luggage tag.
Colors are blue if your final destination is Doha, yellow if you're in economy class and transferring at DIA for a flight to another destination, burgundy if you're in first or business class and transferring to another flight, and green if you're transferring to another flight from their Satellite Airport.
These color coded tickets and luggage tags are then used by airport staff at Doha International Airport to direct you to your correct destination, and for you to know which bus stop you must disembark the airport bus at, as the bus stops are color-coded with colors corresponding to your ticket and luggage tags..
Transfer Line Upon Arrival - In all my travels through many airports, I've never had to ride a bus then disembark, go into a transfer building and stand again, this time in a transfer line. But, that's what you must do in Doha.
After you get off the transit bus, you're steered into your arrival building and into cordoned off queues, just like you're a herd of cattle. Once in line, you spend at least another 10-15 minutes waiting to go through security screening before you're even allowed into the transfer building. From my landing on a Qatar Air flight in Qatar to actually making it into the transfer building was 45 minutes.
Luckily, my layover was long enough but as, on my return flight, I only have 45 minutes in between flights, I must admit I'm worried.
Doha International Airport Facilities - The facilities part of Doha International Airport is where the true disappointment lies. For some bizarre reason, DIA seems to have concentrated all its efforts on a massive and luxurious duty-free shopping area, where you can purchase just about anything you'd ever want, including a car. But, in the rest of the airport, facilities are either poor or non-existent - which frankly seems to fit in with DIA's attitude of 'the average passenger is nothing more than cattle, so needs nothing more than basic food and water'.
The departure area is large, but not particularly clean. Toilet facilities are inadequate, small and, could do with a good scrub, and restaurants are just about non-existent. There's a small food court area, with a poor choice of places to eat and one coffee shop, Costa Coffee, serving extremely over-priced coffee drinks and snacks. Just about every passenger I observed at the DIA departure lounge looked miserable and desperate to get out and many were openly complaining. Which is pretty much how I felt and acted too.
Internet Access at DIA - Non-existent. There's not much more to say. While the airport has a plug-in area, where you can recharge your laptop and other mobile devices, their Wi-Fi system simply doesn't work, anywhere in the airport.
I tried accessing the internet at six different locations but, although I could get a signal, not a single page would load. I asked six other passengers, who all reported the same thing and, when I spoke to a Qatar Air employee about the Wi-Fi access at DIA he told me not only does it never work at the airport, it's dismal everywhere in the country of Qatar.
For me, as a writer who needs to access the net on layovers anywhere I travel, this one factor alone will ensure I never travel through Doha, Qatar again. That, in 2011, they can't even offer basic free internet access (and, honestly, I wouldn't mind paying for it, if it worked) is nothing more than a deal breaker. My three and a half hour layover was a waste of time where I couldn't use basic communications, available at most of the world's international airports and, as a writer in 2011, simply unacceptable.
Doha International Airport (DIA) New Airport - The good news to end this sorry story of what to expect at DIA is that the government of Qatar is building another airport at Doha, which if what they say is to be believed, will be top-of-the-line with all the mod cons and facilities available at every other world-class airport.
The bad news is, it's not projected to open until the end of 2012, meaning anyone flying through Qatar for the next two years will be stuck at a sub-standard 'international' airport, offering some of the world's worst airport facilities. My advice would be, until the beginning of 2013, avoid flying through Doha for any reason, if you absolutely must have modern facilities we now all take for granted. Doha International Airport does not offer them.