At 9:43 this morning, Qatar Airways Flight 183 to Vienna became the last ever commercial passenger flight to take off from Doha International Airport (DIA).
DIA’s runway was made even busier by empty Qatar Airways jets flying to the new Hamad International Airport, and moving into position for departures later in the day.
"QR 183 is the last @qatarairways flight from@DohaAirport,Tower wishes safe flight & happy landing@HIAQatar #Qatar cc @dohanews @Iloveqatar
— Gazanfarulla Khan (@acepilotkhan) May 27, 2014"
The remaining airlines, including Qatar Airways, follow some 15 other carriers that have already shifted over to the new airport over the past month, following HIA’s soft launch on April 30.
Long-term expat Aladdin Saleh, who was en route to Uzbekistan, told Doha News that he felt sentimental about the airport’s closure:
“Of course, I will miss it. It’s kind of a landmark. But the new airport is very nice, more spacious and it’s bigger. The only thing I will miss about this airport is Costa Coffee.”
To reduce any confusion about the move, airport staff had erected prominent posters about the shift, and most travelers appeared to be aware that HIA was becoming fully operational today.
Inevitably, some passengers still arrived at the airport in error, but ground staff and security personnel directed people to the new airport, pointing them in the direction of free transfer buses if they did not have a car.
Once the last flight had been checked in, staff quickly began the process of dismantling the area around the desks, piling signs, baggage tags and unprinted tickets into grey plastic boxes, ready for disposal.
Meanwhile, at the Arrivals Terminal, Coffee Beanery was also being disassembled, and vans were being loaded with furniture. Then, shortly after 9am, the departure boards at DIA were cleared, signaling the end of one era and the beginning of another at HIA, which took over all commercial airline traffic this morning:
The departures board at #DOH is now empty. #endofanera#Avgeek welcome to the new and incredible @HIAQatarpic.twitter.com/6ghCCfUu1x
— Jonathan Haysom (@JonoH) May 27, 2014
Meanwhile, the first Qatar Airways flight to touch down at HIA was Flight 1113 from Bahrain. On Twitter, Gazanfarulla Khan reported than the airport’s air traffic controllers wished the aircraft’s pilots “a good landing”.
Quiet morning at Hamad
Sensibly, Qatar Airways chose a relatively quiet time in their schedule to make the move from DIA to HIA – a transition for which officials had years to prepare following a series of delays in opening the new airport dating back to 2009.
Operations appeared to get off to a smooth start at the new facility on Tuesday morning, with only a handful of flights scheduled to arrive and depart before lunchtime.
In fact, it was hard to spot a passenger among the hundreds of cabin crew, ground staff, administrators, janitors and other employees milling about the terminal, many of whom were clustered around supervisors leading them on a tour of the new facility.
At 8:30am, almost every Qatar Airways check-in desk was staffed, even though the carrier’s first departure – an 11:30am flight to Bangalore – wasn’t scheduled to leave for another three hours.
Meanwhile, Mowasalat stationed three coordinators just outside the arrivals hall to direct travelers to taxis. A supervisor told Doha News that 300 cars were on call to receive the incoming passengers. “We’re ready,” he said.
Similarly, the outbound passport control desks also appeared to be nearly fully staffed, with more than 15 immigration officers at their counters and another half-dozen walking around the area.
In total, roughly 11,000 employees were working at the new airport on Tuesday, including Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who was seen pacing the departures area, giving instructions over his cell phone.
“Every small thing, I have to get upset and remind people…” he said into his phone at one point.
In a brief interview with Doha News, Al Baker said his initial reports were that everything was functioning smoothly:
“Everything is fine. I have all my chief officers present, monitoring each pre-allocated function of the airport … I’m supervising making sure that everything is happening correctly. We are here for any eventuality. It’s a new airport. With everything new, there could be last-minute hiccups. In order to mitigate this risk, we have all the senior management of Qatar Airways present.”
He also announced a new route for the upcoming A380s:
#Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told @dohanews that Doha-NYC will be 3rd route to use new A380, following London & Paris. @Toryscott
— Peter Kovessy (@peterkovessy) May 27, 2014
And finally, Al Baker said he expected between 40,000 and 45,000 passengers to pass through HIA on Tuesday.
The airport is expected to face its first real test during busy periods, such as the early evening and around midnight, which were traditionally “crunch” times at DIA. To this end, a spokesperson for HIA confirmed to Doha News today that during busy periods, “remote stands” – aircraft parking spots away from the terminal – will need to be used to accommodate all flights, meaning that some passengers will still need to take a bus to their aircraft.
This news will no doubt disappoint many passengers, who’d hoped that DIA’s closure would consign the Doha airport bus ride to history.
Down in HIA’s arrivals hall, some 20 staff from the St. Regis Doha were present this morning to greet passengers, standing in a row and handing out bottled water, teddy bears and flowers.
Passengers arriving in the early morning reported minimal waits at immigration.
One man coming from Abu Dhabi said he stood in the passport control line for two minutes and arrived in the baggage hall to find his checked suitcase already on the belt.
Despite a promise that all 70 retail outlets and 30 eateries – most of which are located beyond security – would be open by Tuesday, Argo Tea Cafe on the lower level could still be observed as under construction. However, several retailers have opened their doors for the first time. The departures level features a WH Smith as well as a coffee kiosk. The arrivals level downstairs contains a smaller WH Smith as well as a 24Seven snack shop.
By the late morning, more outbound passengers had started to arrive in advance of some 20 flights leaving between 11:20am and 1:30pm. However, there were minimal lineups at check-in and no line at the passport control at Departures.
One passenger traveling on a Qatar Airways flight to London said check-in took slightly longer than usual – “You could tell some of the staff were new,” he said – but described the transition to the new airport as “seamless” from his perspective.
Did you travel through the new airport today? Thoughts?