Published on : Monday, August 19, 2019
There’s a uniquely steely glance my wife can throw off when I have royally screwed things up, and it was on full display two weeks ago at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar – when I realized that our connecting flight to London was leaving in 24 hours, and not two, as I thought. That’s what you get when you self-book a fortnight’s holiday in Australia and try to figure out on your own how international datelines work.
That glance is a fairly regular occurrence in my life, so much so that every look has a different meaning. This particular one read: “On top of us having to switch airlines with two cranky kids, luggage and no sleep, we now have to spend a whole day in a totally foreign country.” Needless to say, if I wanted to get home in one piece, I had to fix this. Happily, I’m good at fixing things – and in this kind of situation, a fixer embraces the inconvenience. I decided we would spend a day enroute – and the result? A fantastic, fun-filled 24 hours, and the beginning of a new family tradition: the extended layover.
When I decided to embrace the layover, my knowledge of Qatar was somewhat limited, but I knew that it was the only country in the world that started with the letter Q – and, as everyone knows, Q is worth ten points in Scrabble. Ten out of ten was a good sign for Qatar, as countries go.
This little nugget, when imparted to my wife, at least brought a glimmer of a smile. When I told her that it was also the wealthiest country in the world and would likely be a fashion shopper’s paradise, I could feel the tension ease.
Second of all, Doha airport, officially the Hamad International Airport (HIA), is not like any airport I have been to in my life. I am sure it has won every award possible for an airport to win. Its facilities, shopping and atmosphere were so far above any I had experienced elsewhere.
With 24 hours to spend in Qatar, and my family having forgiven me for my shortcomings, we set out to explore. The first thing I noticed as we smoothly went through transfers and security was how clean the airport was. I could not find a piece of rubbish anywhere on the floor, seats or waiting areas: nothing. Even the bathrooms were pristine.
Our first stop, to make my wife and kids happy, was a bite to eat and some shopping. After reviewing the endless options of restaurants, we finally settled on Red Restaurant in the North Node of the airport. Thankfully for us, HIA had passenger trains to get us there without having to carry the kids all the way. Red Restaurant provided a menu with culinary delights from around the world: a winner for my picky eaters.
Food ticked off, we went around Qatar’s Duty-Free, with my wife leaving me with the kids as she hurriedly headed to the designer shops. The shopping area was extensive enough that we barely saw the hours fly by: the kids loved the Bazaar and its collection of souvenirs, sweets, and even dates, which locals love to nibble on with tea or coffee.
I could tell the wife still needed more time trying on watches and bags, so I took the kids to one of the airport’s “activity nodes” – offering televisions and computers and giving them free rein online. There were also impressive interactive art pieces the kids loved playing in, which gave dad some “me” time for coffee and to catch up on the news. Bravo, HIA. Bravo.
Another reason to heap praise on HIA was its superb facilities for families. When I got tired of running after my two-year-old daughter, there were complimentary strollers available around the airport. There were also family restrooms and parent rooms available across the terminal. The parent rooms are spacious and have water and milk warmers and diaper changing stations, very handy when you have a cranky daughter who needs a change and a bottle. Other airports could learn a thing or two.
Realizing that I probably shouldn’t ask the wife how much she spent on her new Burberry bag, we headed across to the Oryx Airport Hotel, which offered exceptional hospitality for stays as short as five hours. You can also unwind with a massage and facial, dive in for a refreshing swim, or hit the gym for a quick workout at the VitalityWellness Center. Since we were exhausted, we decided we would have a quick nap before setting out exploring again.
After our much-needed rest I was intrigued by the art pieces I saw briefly earlier in the airport and suggested we walk around to check them out. An art lover myself, I was amazed at the pieces at the airport, from the Lamp Bear by Urs Fischer to Small Lie by Kaws. There were also some great local pieces. Given how massive HIA is, it made sense to strategically place art pieces around for passengers to enjoy, especially if, like us, they are transiting. After a nice satisfying dinner at Qataf Café,where we tested Arabic hospitality first hand, we decided to call it a night and headed back to the Oryx Airport hotel ready for an early flight the next day.
Up early, but refreshed nonetheless, we made our way to our connecting flight, with the wife stopping on the way to continue shopping for perfume and Arabic sweets. All in all, I think our unplanned extended layover worked out for the best. My wife’s steely glare had disappeared, and the kids had a ton of fun, which I owe to HIA. The airport lives up to its image of class, elegance and five-star service, with brilliant facilities for families. So, if you end up messing up your transit like I did, and find yourself in HIA, then at least you have the comfort of knowing your layover will be amazing.And your family will forgive you. Eventually.