Lebanon News

New baggage scanners to end airport chaos

The anarchic scenes in the departures hall drew attention on social media. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Beirut’s airport is set to unveil a new baggage handling system Tuesday, days after anarchic scenes in the departures hall drew attention on social media.

The new system, which an airport source said would reduce congestion by 70 percent, will scan passengers’ checked luggage underground, replacing the pre-check-in luggage and body scanners currently located at both ends of the departure hall.

In recent days, many passengers suffered long lines before they even reached the check-in desks.

The new baggage handling system - meant to be ready for the beginning of August - would have avoided this issue at a time when the airport is dealing with unprecedented summer travel, the airport source told The Daily Star Monday.

On both Friday and Saturday last week, Rafik Hariri International Airport saw record-breaking numbers of departures. Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos tweeted Sunday that the airport expected over 25,000 daily departures in the coming days. The airport is already running well over double capacity.

According to the source, the airport processed 23,000 passengers Monday but that number is likely to reach 25,000 Wednesday.

To mark Tuesday’s opening, top officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Interior Minister Raya El Hassan and Fenianos, will inspect the new system, whose X-ray machines and supplementary scanners are more modern than the existing front-of-house scanners.

The source said Hariri would attend the opening to show his support for passengers who had missed their flights or suffered from the congestion.

Tuesday will conclude phase two of revamping the airport.

The first phase, which saw the installation of new passport control counters, was completed in June.

The third and most expensive stage of the overhaul is a fast-track scheme exclusively for first- and business-class passengers and frequent flyers.

The fast-track link, which was supposed to be finished by the end of May, will not be completed until the end of the year, the airport source said.

Like the fast-track link, the new baggage handling system has also arrived months late - too late for many who were caught up in chaotic scenes in the overcrowded departure hall, including scuffles and alleged police detentions.

A video shared Sunday on Facebook by the group “Wen el-Dawle?” - “Where is the state?” - showed two male passengers being detained by airport security after a fight broke out in the departure hall. The source said the incident was merely an “individual dispute” and a natural response to the stressful environment.

“Wen el-Dawle?” alleged that many similar incidents had broken out, both among passengers and between passengers and members of the Internal Security Forces. Some of these passengers were detained and ended up missing their flights, the group claimed.

One passenger, Ramzi Saifedine, told The Daily Star that ISF officers had detained him for two hours, by which time he had missed his flight.

“I slipped under the security barrier to ask a security guard if there was any way of letting me pass because I was late. They told me I had to line up like the rest. It turned into an altercation,” he said.

When Saifedine refused to apologize, the security officers detained him and let him go with a fine of $15. But he says the real cost of the incident was the price of a new flight: Saifedine said he had to pay $500 for a new flight and has received no confirmation of a refund from the original airline.

Both the ISF and the airport source denied that the security forces had caused any passengers to miss their flights.

“Those who missed their flights did so because they were late to the airport,” the airport source claimed, adding that passengers are guaranteed to catch their flights if they arrive at least three hours before their flight departure.

Saifeddine was meant to travel at 7:40 a.m., which the source described as a peak time for departures. As for the pre-check-in scanners, they will remain in place in case of emergency situations, the source said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 20, 2019, on page 3.

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