Emily Lewis| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Travelers itching to get out of Beirut for their summer holidays have over the past few days found themselves stuck right out of the gate – or in this case, right before it. Air passengers departing early this week were greeted by seemingly endless lines before they even were able to check in for their flights.
“A departure passenger might have to wait up to 3 hours just to enter [the] first security check,” tweeted Jaafar Abdel-Karim, who hosts a TV show on the Arabic-language version of German station Deutsche Welle. He also shared a video of a disorganized crowd of people waiting at the departures hall.
Monday, a video posted on Instagram showed the departure hall filled with hundreds of people waiting in line to get into the airport. “It took me about 2 hours to get through from the drop off to passport control,” the video was captioned.
“Good thing I planned for this delay and eventually made my 4 a.m. flight,” he added.
An airport source told The Daily Star that about 21,000 passengers had departed Beirut and 19,000 had landed in just the past 24 hours. If the same number of passengers passed through the airport every day, it would add up to more than 14 million in a year – meaning the day’s traffic was a heavy lift for an airport whose maximum capacity is just 6 million passengers annually.
The backup stems from a system at the airport that requires travelers to pass through luggage and body scanners before even reaching the check-in desks.
The pre-check-in security was meant to be permanently removed at the beginning of the month. Instead, travelers will take their bags straight to check-in, where their checked luggage will be automatically scanned by the airport’s newly installed baggage handling system.
However, the change was postponed until Aug. 15, and now to Aug. 20, because of a “personnel issue,” the airport source said.
“There are around 60 to 70 staff members in the Internal Security Forces who are awaiting specialist training for airport security checks,” the source said.
A spokesperson from the Interior Ministry confirmed this, saying, “We are boosting the number of security personnel and ensuring that they have undergone the required training.”
The change was meant to alleviate traffic during the airport’s peak season – set to last through Sept. 15, when passengers had already been asked to arrive at least four hours ahead of their scheduled flight time.
Mohammad Chehabeddine, the director-general of civil aviation, told The Daily Star Tuesday that these sorts of delays were “normal” and “to be expected” during the months of July and August because summer vacationers lead to increased traffic.
The Eid al-Adha religious festival that took place over Sunday through Wednesday also contributed to a rise in passenger numbers, he said.
One Twitter user posted photos Tuesday morning of glum-looking passengers waiting in line, accompanied by a caption jokingly saying that “the real sacrifice is Beirut airport on Eid,” in reference to the English translation of the celebration – the Festival of Sacrifice.
As part of an $18 million airport renovation, new passport counters have been added at both departures and arrivals, in addition to boosting numbers of security forces and baggage scanners.
Sarah Houri, a Lebanese national who flew to Istanbul Tuesday afternoon, said that despite the introduction of the new counters, there were “lots of queues” before reaching General Security’s passport control.
However, despite the evidence to the contrary, the airport source denied that passengers had waited before check-in for hours, saying that he was present at the airport Tuesday morning and saw queues of no more than 45 minutes.
The source also claimed that those arriving at the airport had not been affected.