A Really Useful Thing To Know

WIN_20160617_15_00_20_ProNow, here is a really useful thing to know. At any rate, if you trying to fly around the world and find yourself in the Business Lounge at Doha Airport.

DO NOT TRY TO EXIT THE LOUNGE THROUGH THE DOOR MARKED “EXIT”.

I tried it, and it cost me nine painful and tedious hours of my life.

This is what happened. I had flown from Adelaide to Doha, where there was a 12 hours stopover before the connecting flight to London.  That sounds bad, but is manageable. There are things one can do to make that 12 hours pass. Like a desert safari.  I deal with that below, because I can see that you will want to know right away about the door thing.

So, you do the 13 hours or so on the aeroplane to Doha. That is not too bad, because at 35,000 feet Qatar Airways gives you a decent glass of claret with dinner, even though it is Ramadan. You kill most of the 12 hours with a desert safari and stuff. You get back to the airport with plenty of time for the onward flight to London. It is early afternoon. No lunch because it is Ramadan. An hour before the flight is due to take off (they like to do these things with plenty of time) it is time to exit the lounge in order to proceed to the Departure Gate. Not just go to the Departure Gate. Proceed. You are doing all the procedure stuff, just the way it is supposed to be done, even though it is now really quite a long time since you have slept, and you are getting just a bit travel weary.

The Business Lounge at Doha boasts that it is the size of 10 Olympic swimming pools. Quite why that is supposed to be a good thing is a bit of a mystery. It has some quite striking interior design features, including chairs that would grace the set of Game of Thrones, but which are really not comfortable at all to actually sit in.  There is a business centre, in which it is not possible to plug anything in, unless you have remembered to bring UK style mains adapters (the UK mains plug is just about the daftest thing the UK has ever done. Vast, ugly buggers. With no earthly point to them unless you want to fill in an Olympic swimming pool or two).  Nor, by the way, are you allowed to take a cup of coffee into the business centre. Or any other liquid. Which is annoying, because it is the only one of the 10 Olympic swimming pools that has a table higher than a pair of socks. So if you want to type anything on a laptop, and do not possess the suppleness of an Olympian synchronised swimmer, the business centre is the only place to be. Until your computer’s battery runs out, because the mains sockets in the business centre will only accept UK style plugs, and you bought this computer somewhere else.

Anyway, you have walked around. Peered into the games room, which contains the front of a pretend racing car so you can play simulated racing car games. Except you can’t, because the pretend racing car’s pretend steering wheel has been removed. For Ramadan, perhaps? Maybe Allah reckons racing car simulators are not really that holy? Who knows? Who cares? It is time to exit the Business Lounge and proceed to the Departure Gate, in plenty of time.  Happily (you think, poor deluded fool) there are some helpful signs with arrows saying “Exit”.  You follow them. There is a door, with a sign above it saying “Exit”. You think, “Great! Here is where I exit the Business Lounge in order to proceed to the Departure Gate”. Poor deluded fool!

You open the door and go through it. Ominously, it closes rapidly behind you. You are in a stairwell. Still a Game of Thrones sort of theme, but a bit more towards the dungeon end of the scale, instead of the throne room. Hey ho. You cannot go back; the door has locked behind you. You go down. At the bottom, there is another door with a sign above it saying “Exit”. But this time the door has a small glass window, and you can see that door leads directly onto the tarmac.  In fact, there is a dirty great bit of very large landing gear right there, the other side of this last door. Now, if you are an illegal immigrant, you might think that climbing up the landing gear is a jolly good way to board an aeroplane bound for Heathrow. Otherwise, you think, “No. That is not the right way”. So you climb back up the stairs in a vain effort to find a door that will let you back into the Business Lounge. Or any lounge. Or better still, somewhere near the departure Gates.

Eventually, a security chap turns up, with a blazer and a radio. You explain the problem.  He says, “No problem!” You explain that you really need to get to the Departure Gate. He says, “Wait! No problem!”. His mate turns up. He also is wearing a blazer and has a radio. They take turns going through the door that you cannot go through (they have a special pass card) and telling you it is no problem.

It is really quite hot in that stairwell – perhaps 50 degrees C – and you explain a number of times that you really need to be let back through the door in order to get to the Departure Gate. “No problem” they say, they just need to wait for police. Because you are on the land side of the door, you see. You explain that if they will only let you walk back through the door, you will be on the air side. “Police are coming; no problem!”

At this point you start wondering if Theon Greyjoy had it all a bit cushy. It is a full 45 minutes before they let you through the door and introduce you to the policeman. He wants to conduct enquiries. He wants you to sit down. Eventually, the policeman is satisfied that then problem is that you went through the door marked “Exit”, and that you are not trying to climb up the landing gear as an illegal immigrant. By this time, the flight has closed. They take you to the transfer desk. Did you not know that you were supposed to exit the lounge and proceed to the departure Gate at least 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time? Yes, you did bloody know! What you now want to know is how soon they can get you on another bloody plane.

Nine hours. Nine hours of fruitless searching for a chair in the lounge that was not the work of Ramsey Snow.

No consoling single malt of course, because it is bloody Ramadan! Nor a claret, nor even a beer. For some bizarre reason Allah seems to think it OK for infidels to drink alcohol at 35,000 feet, even during Ramadan, but not in the Business Lounge.

By the end of the nine hours, you are exhausted, not least from the effort of staying awake, after the best part of 24 hours in bloody Doha with no sleep.

What did you do for nine hours? Walk around, and establish there is not a single sign anywhere in the 10 Olympic swimming pools giving any hint as to where the real exit is (turns out that it is behind a feature wall). Have a shower to wash off the sweat of 45 minutes on a 50 degree C stairwell, and then realise that your shirt is still dripping wet. Compose an email of complaint. Read their glib brush-off.  Drink coffee, and yet more coffee, in an effort to stay awake and not miss the nine-hours-later flight.

The moral of all of this? Well, there might be two.

One is, that a door marked “Exit” in Qatar really means “Emergency Exit”.

The other is to stay clear of Doha.

 

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