Lebanon News

Airport improvements bring overdue relief

New security measures at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Aug. 20, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Passengers at Rafik Hariri International Airport have noticed the positive effects of new procedures officially inaugurated Tuesday by Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Hariri, who was accompanied by Interior Minister Raya El Hassan, Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos and Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian, was shown three newly installed hand baggage scanners.

Hassan explained in a tweet that the number of scanners had been increased from six to nine and that all scanners now included liquid explosive detectors.

The visit also marked the opening of a new underground handling system for checked baggage, which will replace the pre-check-in luggage and body scanners now located at both ends of the departure hall, and speed up the process for those flying from the airport.

However, Guidanian told The Daily Star that the pre-check-in scanners would remain in place as a precautionary measure until the first week of September.

The new system was meant to be ready for the beginning of August - a fact not lost on Hariri. “Are we late? Yes, we are late. Should we hurry up? Yes we should hurry up. And that is the reason I came to the airport: to follow up on the issue personally,” he said at a news conference.

The third and final part of the airport overhaul - a fast-track scheme for first- and business-class passengers and frequent flyers - is also several months late.

“The fast-track scheme will be running before the end of the year,” Hassan tweeted Tuesday, adding that a special wing would be established to serve priority travelers.

The changes appear to have brought some relief to passengers, after turbulent weekend scenes.

The group Wen el-Dawle? - “Where is the State?” - shared a video on Facebook Sunday showing two men being detained by airport security after a brawl in the departure hall. A source at the airport told The Daily Star that he attributed the dispute to the stressful atmosphere.

Tuesday saw calmer scenes, even though, according to the source, the number of travelers was similar to recent days.

One passenger, who flies frequently and preferred not to be identified, said the volume of travelers seen over the weekend had been “unusual.”

“What I saw from photos and videos on social media over the weekend was not normal. The airport can’t accommodate that huge number of travelers,” he said.

Ahmad Sherif, a 21-year-old passenger, said the congestion was “not bad” Tuesday. But, he added, “the best solution they could do is to expand the airport. The airport is very small. When we talk about 25,000 travelers [in one day, it is] a very normal number for most airports across the world. But in Beirut, since it is the only airport, 25,000 travelers is a huge problem.”

Guidanian told The Daily Star that the Lebanese state did not have the budget for a full-scale expansion, suggesting that such work would cost around $200 million.

He described the current work, which has cost $18 million, as “fine-tuning” to increase the airport’s capacity from 6 million passengers per year to between 7 million and 8 million. But he admitted that, since the airport received around 9 million passengers last year, it would remain over capacity even with the new additions.

Asked whether this could be dangerous, he answered, “No, not yet.”

Sherif added that the pre-check-in security was “very annoying. I’ve been in plenty of airports across the world and you are normally checked only once. But in Lebanon you are searched three or four times, which is very bad and can make you late for your flight.”

The Daily Star previously reported that one traveler, Ramzi Saifeddine, missed his flight Sunday after he was detained by security personnel for trying to cut long lines in the departure hall.

“Getting rid of pre-check-in security is a very good step. Why would they want to search you three or four times? Twice is enough,” Sherif said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2019, on page 2.




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