Qatar today opened a huge expansion of its main international airport as the national carrier’s chief hit back at ‘rumours’ that it could not cope with World Cup passengers.
At the centrepiece of the new terminal expansion at Hamad International Aiport is an indoor tropical garden featuring more than 300 different trees and 25,000 plants from around the world, as well as a large water feature.
After the multi-billion dollar overhaul, the airport will take its capacity from 40 million passengers a year to 58 million, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told a news conference.
The expansion adds 39 airport gates to the existing 140 at the airport, which is a major hub for transit passengers.
The project was completed just 10 days from the start of the World Cup, which is expected to draw more than one million visitors to the Gulf state, the smallest ever host of the mega event.
Qatar has also been forced to reopen Doha International Airport to ease pressure.
Qatar Airways has also eliminated 18 destinations from its schedule to increase flights from key World Cup markets and to allow other airlines to run football charters.
Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, dismissed suggestions that Qatar’s aviation authorities could not cope.
‘There have always been rumours,’ he said before insisting that ‘systems and innovations’ introduced for the World Cup had been tested.
£80 a pint?! Football fans face extortionate ‘drinks deals’ at Qatari hotels during the World Cup
Football fans heading to Qatar for the World Cup face paying up to £80 per pint as part of extortionate ‘drinks deals’ on offer in the typically teetotal Muslim kingdom.
Champion’s Bar at the Marriott Hotel in Doha, which advertises itself as the city’s ‘best sports bar’, is selling tickets to watch the final for £240 including food and three drinks, meaning each beer or glass of wine costs up to £80.
Meanwhile other hotels in Qatar – one of the few places you are allowed to drink due to strict Sharia laws – are halting or ratcheting up the price of their usual promotions, with supporters facing prices of £11 per pint or more.
Even those hoping to watch games inside World Cup fan zones – where drinking will only be allowed between certain times – face paying upwards of £7 for a beer.
End to end, the Qatari peninsula is about 113 miles long – about the same as the distance from London to Bristol – and has a regular population of just 300,000 excluding expats and migrant workers.
That has led to fears that facilities on the peninsula will simply be overwhelmed by the number of sports fans set to arrive, which will likely exceed 1million.
It is those fears which have led some hotels in Qatar – The Four Seasons, Kempinski, and W Hotel – to ramp up the prices of their regular drinks deals.
Four Seasons is putting a stop to its £42 two-hour all-you-can-drink promotion and will ramp up the cost of its bottomless brunches from £130 to £306, The Sun says.
The Kempinski has stopped happy hours when it usually charges £8.40 for a beer, with fans expected to cough up £11 instead.
And W Hotel will serve the last of its £108 bottomless brunches on Friday, ahead of the first game of the tournament next weekend.
One Four Seasons worker said: ‘We wouldn’t cope if thousands of fans tried to take advantage of our happy hours so we’ve had to stop them.’
‘We have already made sure that all the capacity involved with extra flights and charter flights meet the maximum capacity per hour of each of the two airports,’ he said.
‘So we are very well positioned in order to cater for this very large influx of passengers.’
Baker lashed out at critics of his country hosting the upcoming FIFA World Cup, saying his nation will ‘always rub salt into the wound’ of its adversaries.
Baker’s comments show the increasingly confrontational stance of Qatari officials as the start of the tournament approaches on November 20 and as the spotlight on the small, energy-rich country intensifies.
Qatar will become the first Muslim nation to host a World Cup when games begin in two weeks, but the tournament has been mired in controversy from the start.
Allegations of corruption were levelled at Fifa over the decision to award the tournament to Qatar, and claims of migrant worker abuse have dogged the build-up.
At least 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded a decade ago, with experts saying it is likely many were linked to the construction of venues and other infrastructure projects to support the event.
Doha has also faced down allegations that it has used effective slave labour to complete many of the projects.
Coupled to that, the repressive kingdom’s record of opposing human rights – including comments this week by a Qatari official that gay people are mentally ill – has also caused controversy.
Even Sepp Blatter, ex-Fifa boss who stepped down amid a corruption scandal shortly after Qatar was given the World Cup, has admitted it was a ‘mistake’ to pick them.
Speaking from the airport today, Baker made a point to note it had taken Skytrax’s Best Airport Award from Singapore Changi Airport in the last two years.
‘We always rub salt into the wound of our competitor, and of course, our adversaries, as you can see the measure of the negative media campaign against my beloved country Qatar,’ he said.
‘Because people cannot accept that a small country like the state of Qatar has won the world’s largest sporting event.’
He added: ‘Congratulations to Qatar, my beloved country.’ Some officials attending the news conference clapped in response.
His combativeness continued into a brief two-question news conference. Later asked about how the airport would transform to handle the influx of World Cup visitors, Baker responded: ‘I do know why this question is being asked because there have always been rumors against the capacity we will be able to handle.’
The indoor tropical garden is expected to include over 300 trees and over 25,000 plants. It also features a water feature
A new phase of the airport’s expansion will start in January, aiming to take the capacity at Hamad Airport – which only opened in 2014 – to more than 70 million passengers a year.
‘What we have done in this very short period of time already has raised the bar that I doubt that any airport ever will be able to match,’ the airline chief declared.
Baker, who long has served as Qatar Airways CEO, has made controversial comments in the past, including suggesting that women can’t run airlines and for calling American carriers ‘crap’ and that their passengers were ‘always being served by grandmothers.’ He later apologized for both remarks.
People walk inside the new central concourse terminal expansion at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday
However, his hard-changing, confrontational approach carries into negotiations with manufacturers and others.
Qatar Airways is now involved in a lawsuit with Airbus over its claims that its long-range Airbus A350s are seeing their fuselages ‘degrading at an accelerated rate.’
Both Hamad International Airport, a $15 billion airport that opened in 2014, and its former hub Doha International Airport will be handling incoming flights for the World Cup.
Baker said authorities expected over a million people to pass through the two airports during the tournament.