Up in the Air While Down on the Ground
I was going to title this post DOH, as that is the code for Doha International Airport – but it seems more fitting to refer to the excellent recent George Clooney film. If you’ev seen Up in the Air, you’ll know that much of what the main character refers to as “Air World” is actually on the ground. I’m writing this inside the Premium Terminal at Doha International Airport, worldwide hub for Qatar (properly pronounced CAT-tar) Airways.
Outside, it was a balmy 82F when I landed in darkness at about 4:30am local time, and now the sun is rising over the desert outside the (heavily shaded) windows. Inside, it is a comfortable AC-enhanced room temperature, and the environment is specially designed for relaxation, comfort, and productivity.
This is a perfect example of an Air World space – although not in the sky, it is part of that other world beyond security that seems to exist on a separate plane. The vast roster of this Air World goes from airport concourses and lounges to the rows of identical airport hotels that ring the highways leading to, it would appear, every major airport in the world.
On the way to China, I spent 8 hours here, and watched the huge space go from empty when I arrived at 5pm to packed by 11pm, when my colleague arrived on a later flight from London and we could barely find a free table. Today, I have just about 2 1/2 hours to get refreshed, have some food, and maybe pick something up in the duty free shop (if I can convert Qatar Riyals – which are 5.8 per GBP). What meal to call it is a bit confusing, as I was served breakfast on the plane at about 2:30am Doha time, which was appropriate breakfast time at my origin (7:30am) but not at my destination (12:30am).
A final interesting point about airport lounges in general – and this one in particular, as this is the largest and nicest I’ve ever seen. There is a casualness that pervades, which I think is very characteristic; I think of it as “too cool for rules.” As a general rule-follower, I find it disorienting that there don’t seem to be any in these places. Sure, they tell you where you can and cannot smoke, but it is hard to figure out the deal – what to do, how to get what you want. This is because you can do anything you want – you, the mighty premium traveler, set the rules. Whatver you do, the staff are trained to go along.
Now, I find this stressful, but you can probably see the appeal, especially to the real “high roller” types. A good example is the liquor here; instead of being served, you can serve yourself and the full-size bottles are out there. Also, during my 8-hour layover, I got really tired and had a splitting headache. After getting some ibuprofen from the in-terminal medical clinic, I asked them for a place to lay down. While they don’t have that (well, they do, but only in the first class section, not for the lowly business classers), they did accommodate me as they seem to be required to do; they have a nursery for children, and it was empty, but it was quiet and dark and had bean-bag chairs, so I was directed to rest in there if I wished. There is certainly an interesting psychology to the whole thing especially if you’re not (personally) footing the bill!