Hamad International Airport and the New ‘Normal’ for Travel
The travel and tourism industry has suffered immeasurable financial losses during the last eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world's borders have closed, and travellers have been told to stay at home - many sectors in the industry have all but ground to a halt, and countless businesses have folded. None of us knows yet when the pandemic will abate or how long it will be before 'normal' travel is resumed. One thing is clear; travel will need to be kick-started soon for all of the associated industries to survive.
Like airports all across the globe, Hamad International Airport (HIA) has faced a trying year in light of the pandemic. In the middle of the first phase of an ambitious expansion project, and responsible for the transportation of hundreds of thousands of people and tonnes of cargo, the global crisis has had a significant impact on the airport. Keeping workers, staff and passengers safe during the situation has been a priority. So has safeguarding supplies of food and resources, and ensuring that airport's development plans, and those affecting the 2022 FIFA World Cup remain on track.
Aside from this, the airport has been working hard to conceptualise the new 'normal' for travel - what it will look like and how it can be achieved safely, but comfortably and efficiently. To this end, the organisation have, in recent months, begun to revamp the customer journey through the airport. Using new technology, process and procedures, or expanding and improving on existing aspects, HIA has used the downturn wisely and is preparing itself for the road to recovery. Ensuring that the airport has an efficient and effective programme of sanitising and disinfecting, and working to reduce contact points across the airport and contact times throughout the passenger journey, have been just some of the main goals of the new initiatives.
HIA recently invested in several Ultra Violet Disinfection (UVD) robots to help keep the airport terminal safe. These nifty little robotic devices automatically navigate their way around areas of high passenger traffic emitting concentrated UV-C light to destroy infectious diseases, viruses and bacteria. Small and unobtrusive, and with inbuilt sensors that allow it to operate in highly-trafficked areas and stop if people get too close, it works by using UV-C light to break down the DNA structure of pathogens in the air or on surfaces.
The airport has also fitted continuously operating UV devices to escalator handrails (a fantastic innovation since we can all be accused of absentmindedly grabbing them as we travel up and down!).
Behind the scenes, UV disinfection tunnels have been installed to disinfect passenger luggage.
As part of HIA’s ongoing development plans, ‘Smart’ airport technology has become a central feature across the terminal over the last few years. Originally, self-service check-in kiosks and baggage drop stations were installed. Then e-gates were provided at Immigration. All of which gave passengers greater choice and autonomy on their journey, and improved the airport's operational efficiency.
During the last year, the airport has further expanded its smart technology options using facial biometric technology. Using the new technology, customers can proceed through the airport using their face as their passport and boarding pass, seamlessly using self-services to check-in and drop baggage, navigate security checkpoints and boarding gates with no paper checks required. Passengers sign up to the service (at kiosks or via mobile app) using their flight details, passport and facial biometrics, which are then stored as a single electronic record and allow a paperless journey through the terminal. Not only does this technology enhance customer convenience and improve process efficiency, but it also helps to expand terminal capacity and boosts security.
More recently, and in light of the pandemic, HIA has been trailing contactless technology for check-in and baggage drop services. Using ‘happy hover’ touchless technology, customers can use a check-in or baggage drop screen by simply hovering their hand over the options provided rather than touching the screen. Infra-red technology detects fingers within range, and the intended customer action, as they approach a specific area of the screen. Additionally, HIA is trailing SITA mobile solution technology for similar touchless check-in and baggage drop services. Using the technology, passengers can use their mobile phone to control kiosk screens from a distance. By scanning their mobile QR ticket code at the kiosk, and connecting via WIFI to an associated app, customers can take control of the kiosk screen via their phone. Both technologies preserve the customer convenience of the kiosks while maintaining health and safety standards during the pandemic.
It is also worth noting that HIA has also installed touchless technology at elevator keys!
Minimising Contact Times
Reducing contact time between passengers, and between passengers and staff, has been another vital measure in minimising potential infection points. To that end, new C2 security screening technology has recently been installed at HIA’s Transfer Hall security checkpoints. Conventional security screening involves a high level of contact between passengers, staff and checkpoint surfaces. The new technology enables efficient and accurate screening for explosive materials and prohibited items held in complex structures, i.e. congested bags, electronic devices, etc. As a result, transfer passengers can keep electronic devices, liquids and so on in their hand luggage when passing through security. Thus, contact between people and surfaces at transfer security checkpoints will be reduced, and the speed and efficiency of the screening process improved.
Investments in body scanners for security checkpoints is another option mooted by HIA. The use of full-body scanners will not only provide a more efficient and accurate method of screening passengers but will also further enhance the security process in terms of speed and hygiene.
Social distancing, handwashing, sanitising and disinfecting surfaces, wearing face masks, and monitoring temperature and well-being have been crucial in the global fight against COVID-19. Hamad International Airport has ensured that these measures are facilitated for passengers arriving and transiting in, or departing from Doha...
Social distancing, as everywhere in the world, is required throughout the airport. Floor markings, signage, screening and distanced seating help passengers to keep their 1.5m distance from one another.
Regular and frequent cleaning and disinfection routines always carried out at HIA, have, since the outbreak of COVID-19 began, increased in regularity for all high contact areas. Hand sanitisers are provided at all key locations throughout the airport - check-in, security, passport control, arrivals, immigration, baggage handling, etc. And, since masks are a mandatory requirement throughout the airport, handy new PPE vending machines have been installed that stock a cache of masks, as well as gloves, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitisers. PPE stocks are also available at retail points across the halls and concourses.
HIA is also employing thermal imaging technology to monitor passenger temperatures as they journey through the airport. Staff wearing space-age style helmets, originally designed for security personnel, can scan up to 200 people (in range) per minute looking for raised temperatures. Anyone with a raised temperature can be checked by a medical professional and isolated as necessary - keeping the airport moving and passengers safe.
All the hard work to create a safe, efficient environment for travellers and airport staff during the pandemic was recently recognised by the BSI (British Standards Institution). HIA became the first airport in the world to achieve an independent verification certificate, from BSI, for it’s COVID-19 Aviation Health and Safety Protocol implementation.
The certificate, awarded following compliance verification audits undertaken by BSI assessors, demonstrates the airport’s conformity with strict health, safety and operational guidelines issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Civil Aviation Recovery Taskforce.
The achievement not only demonstrates Qatar as an emerging global leader in aviation, but also illustrates to staff, passengers and all stakeholders that the best practices in health and safety, and a commitment to maintaining business efficiency, are being upheld at HIA.
HIA is expanding over the next few years to increase capacity. The first phase, due for completion in 2022, will see annual capacity rise to 55 million, just in time for the World Cup. Phase 2 will see the airport's capacity increase to more than 65 million passengers annually. As the airport expands, the technologies and innovations designed to ensure operational efficiency and customer satisfaction - through safe, convenient and speedy travel through the terminal - will also develop. And, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety will be at the forefront of those developments - not only keeping passengers and staff safe but also giving people the confidence to travel freely again.
For more information about Hamad International Airport, its arrivals, departures or transfer procedures, and other select services, check out our Airport section of the website.
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