1.2 million passengers passed through Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv in March, after 1.1 million passengers passed through in all of January and February, as Israel's tourist industry recovers fast from the Covid pandemic. The forecast is that 1.5 million passengers will pass through the airport in April, with 70,000-75,000 per day during the Passover holiday.
The long lines seem to get longer every day. This is due to a number of reasons: a shortage of manpower, soaring demand over a very short period, reducing the number of counters to create PCR testing facilities, and low use of technology such as checking in online.
Ben Gurion Airport director Shmuel Zakai claims that the Covid crisis has led to the current situation. "Passengers have to present more documents as required by the destination country and this makes procedures longer."
He added, "The fact that passengers must go to the registration counters is a problem that the airlines can solve. On this week's Ryanair flights 50% of passengers stood in line at the hand baggage counter. Before Covid they did not need to stand in line there because they could check-in online. Ryanair like other airlines needs to release the pressure and trust the passengers and allow them to check in on the Internet, and not require them to come to the counters.
But airlines prefer to be careful because if a passenger lands in a country without the required entry documentation (the need to test for Covid for example) then the airline bears responsibility for flying them home.
Zakai said, "99% of passengers check ahead of time the terms of entry to the country that they are flying to and if they know that the country requires antigen test before the flight they come ready. The airport has a W track for passengers taking of without baggage. El Al for example checks the required documents there. But there are airlines that for reason of costs prefer that the passengers come to their counters. I spoke to the airlines this week and I begged them to manage the risk and renew check-in over the Internet. Ultimately the number of passengers who don't follow instructions is meager. But in order to fish them out they make tens of thousands stand in line. There are 6-7 flights a day to some destinations and they just send back one passenger. It's more complicated on the trans-Atlantic flights but still there are airlines that have gone back to the previous system and they know that it is worth the risk."
Zakai said that if the US agrees to the airline demands to end the need for a Covid test before entering the country then that will ease the situation.
This will be far from a solution as Israel remain exceptional in conducting PCR tests at Ben Gurion airport for all people entering the country. This has resulted in 45 airline counters being converted into PCR testing stations. For those leaving the country requiring a PCR test, part of Terminal 1 has been dedicated to this purpose.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 6, 2022.
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