A distraught family told how their World Cup dreams were shattered after their five-year-old daughter was banned from boarding their flight to Qatar as she didn’t have a visa.
Heartbroken Rhian Hayes, 39, told how daughter Orla and football mad son Harrison, eight, were left in tears after being turned away at Heathrow Airport.
The family had saved up for three years for the £7,000 once-in-a-lifetime trip and had tickets for four matches.
But a failure in Qatar’s fan ID system meant Orla’s visa application was not officially approved until 12 hours after their flight took off.
By then the distraught family had returned to their home near Newport, South Wales.
Civil servant Rhian told MailOnline: ‘We feel absolutely gutted for the kids. We had been saving up for this for years and it comes at a time when you’ve just been hit by a financial crisis. It’s just devastating.
‘I hope it doesn’t scar the children. Everything was linked to my five year old.
‘She’s apologising saying “I’m so sorry”. We’re trying to say to her “It’s not your fault. It’s the system’s fault”. All she is hearing is Oral Hayes, Orla Hayes. We can’t fly because of Orla Hayes. Poor thing.
The Hayes family were forbidden from flying to Qatar because of a failure in their fan ID system
‘My son was desperate to get to the World Cup. He is a massive football fan – he’s obsessed.
‘It’s devastating for him. Having the whole thing ripped from you for no reason, it’s just horrendous.’
Rhian said they had been victims of the ‘farcical’ system which was set up to fast-track fans’ entry into Qatar.
It meant the application for her daughter, which was supposed to take less than five days to approve, was held up for 10 weeks.
The family were told that the application had been approved on paper but there was no confirmation on the official Qatar 2022 app.
They claim they were advised by officials in Qatar to sort the issue out when they arrived at Doha airport on Wednesday evening.
The family travelled through the night before arriving at Heathrow at 5.30am before queueing for their Qatar Airways flight for an hour and a half.
Five-year-old daughter Orla arrived at Heathrow Airport with her visa application unapproved
But when they finally reached the check in desk they were told their daughter would not be able to board the flight without her digital ‘QR code’.
Rhian said: ‘They wouldn’t let us get on the flight. There was no support there at all. It was an absolute shambles.
‘Qatar were just really rude. We spoke to a manager at the airport and he said “No. You cannot get on this flight”. There was no kind of “What an awful situation you are in, let’s just see if we can phone anybody for you”. It was just so unfair.’
Rhian – who supports her native Wales along with her son – told how she and English husband Andy, 43, had been planning to go to the World Cup after visiting friends who live in the Gulf state in 2018.
They booked their flights for their two-week holiday in January and were overjoyed when Wales qualified for their first World Cup finals in 64 years.
With the help of their friends, who they were due to stay with in Qatar, they were able to buy 11 tickets to four group stage matches at a cost of £1,500.
Mother Rhian (right) said the process as an ‘absolute shambles’ and Qatar’s staff were ‘rude’
They included Wales’ games against the USA and Iran.
Supporters with tickets and accommodation need to apply for a digital Hayya card which allows entry into Qatar as well as stadium access and free transport during their stay in the country.
The system was set up to fast track visa applications for World Cup fans and make the process of travelling simpler.
The family made their online application in mid-September. They quickly received approval for everyone except Orla.
Rhian told how they spent weeks trying to resolve the issue with emails and phone calls as their five-year-old’s application was left stuck in ‘pending’.
She said: ‘My daughter’s application was submitted at the same time as ours. Myself, my husband and my son were all approved.
The Welsh family had saved up £7,000 in three years to book their dream trip to the World Cup
‘Both the children were put through on my husband’s Hayya as that’s the way the system works for dependents. It just didn’t make sense that my five-year-old’s didn’t go through.
‘We started to worry. We called Hayya who at the time sounded very helpful.
‘There were email exchanges and phone call after phone call.
‘All they kept saying was “We’ll raise this and we’ll let them know” but nothing was happening.
‘Then it got to two weeks before we were travelling. It was getting ridiculous.
‘We had two families at both ends trying to sort this out. Our friends in Qatar were going to immigration at their end. They were told the visa was there but there was an error with the link on the app.
‘The immigration department in Qatar said it had been approved on the exact same date as the three of you but something has happened in the system where it’s just got stuck.
Children Orla (left) and Harrison (right) were looking forward to seeing four matches in Qatar
‘We never had the approved status. It was like she was stuck in the system and nobody there could escalate or do anything about it.
‘We called them and called them. They kept saying we promise this will be sorted within 24 hours but it never was.
‘On Monday we were panicking. We called them again. We were given advice to continue to travel and sort it out in Doha. ‘He said “Don’t worry. We will not be leaving people in the lurch. You will get on your flight and we will get you your physical copy when you get to Doha.
`We took them at their word. We travelled to Heathrow on Wednesday but they wouldn’t let us get on the flight. It was an absolute shambles.’
The family spent hours at the airport trying to resolve the matter and were told they would have to fork out nearly £5,000 to book new flights.
But they couldn’t afford the extra cost and decided to return home as they still didn’t have approval for their daughter on the Qatar 2022 app.
Rhian said: ‘We got home with two exhausted kids. To rub salt into the wounds my daughter got approved at 8pm that night. It just came through on the app.
The ‘heartbroken’ family returned to their home near Newport, South Wales after the incident
‘We thought this was ridiculous. We have been chasing for weeks. We were absolutely heartbroken.
‘It was a slap in the face for us that we had got home and it was finally approved.
‘They waited until we had missed our flight before putting it on the system. It just made us feel even worse.
She added: ‘It has been emotionally draining. You’re kind of angry.
‘It’s all happened because the system is not working in the way it should be. Presumably it was designed to make the whole thing easier for fans.
‘The whole trip was ruined because nobody would escalate it and there was nobody we could speak to to find out why it hadn’t been sorted out.
‘Qatar should never have got this World Cup because they haven’t got the capacity in their systems to control the amount of people trying to get into the country.’