Doha’s Hamad International Airport unveils plans for a fast-transit future

n.b. – This story first appeared in the APEX Editor’s Blog on 9 November 2013

Is it possible for any terminal construction project to create the perfect passenger experience? Doha’s new Hamad International Airport is certainly trying as the new facility approaches entry into service. Yes, the project is delayed (a firm date for the opening is not yet known), but that has not stopped the airport authority or Qatar Airways, the home carrier at the facility, from touting the benefits the new terminal will bring to passengers.

At first glance the building is simply stunning, architecturally magnificent even. It is a large terminal with approximately 600,000 square metres under one roof and capacity for 8,700 passengers per hour. Even with such a large size, however, the distance between the 41 gates is rarely too long or too onerous for connecting passengers.

The building is designed to facilitate connections – many more passengers are in transit than staying in Doha – and that shows in many areas of the facility.

There are, for example, 60 security screening lanes for passengers connecting at the airport and only 21 for travellers originating there. Qatar Airways is working with the airport authority to offer an incredibly quick 30-minute minimum connection time for passengers, again speaking to the value of those passengers to the carrier. They expect that fewer than 5% of travellers will require such a quick transit but they are building in the technology and processes to support it.

Much of that will come in the manner of boarding gates with dedicated screening hardware which can process disembarking passengers immediately into the departures level of the terminal rather than requiring queuing in the regular transit lines. Of course, it is all theory right now, and remains a challenging theory to implement. Just 5% of passengers would still be thousands per hour. That’s a lot of “special” cases to be managing.

For those passengers with longer connections the terminal offers some interesting – and challenging – amenities. Details on the retail and dining offerings remain scarce, though the blueprints show an impressive central hub of food and shopping space, plus more options distributed out through the terminals. At the same time, however, some of the simple things seem to be less well designed for passenger comfort.

In one of the terminal piers shown off recently there were hundreds of chairs arranged in typical waiting area rows and nary an electrical outlet to be seen. That’s not so traveller-friendly. There are terminals installed for free internet access, a TV viewing area, a kids’ play area and a rest/sleeping area. The one example we saw had all of this directly adjacent to each other, somewhat crowded into one section of the terminal.

There are a lot of areas where the new Hamad International Airport will shine far above what the current Doha airport has to offer. It should be better for nearly every passenger. Still, it is somewhat disheartening to see some reasonably notable misses in the passenger experience world in a greenfield construction effort. Nothing is perfect and Hamad International shows that quite readily.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.