By Bejay Browne
TOURISM officials and disgruntled passengers have called on the government to employ more security staff at the island’s airports as they say long queues are damaging tourism.
Although the long delays are affecting both Larnaca and Paphos airports, Paphos is the worst hit. Travellers fear the queues will only get worse as the season progresses and airports become busier.
Officials have recently welcomed the news that tourism arrivals are showing a general increase, but say efforts are wasted if travellers face scenes of chaos at the airports.
“Airports are the first and last point of contact on a holiday, and we don’t want people to leave with a bitter taste in their mouth because of the delays, after having an enjoyable holiday,” said Nasos Hadjigeorgiou, head of the Paphos regional board of tourism:
A month ago, Andreas Demetriades, the chairman of the district’s chamber of commerce, visited the airport along with mayor Phedonas Phedonos, Paphos MPs and other local officials, in a bid to solve the problem. So far, nothing has changed.
Demetriades said that said they demanded the justice ministry provide more staff to cut queues. He said that the airport’s capacity at peak times was around 1,000 inbound and 1,000 outbound passengers, but that in practice passenger figures were two-and-a-half times higher. He said passenger traffic increased by around 21 per cent compared with last year and would increase significantly as Paphos is the European Cultural Capital for 2017.
This huge volume results in huge delays and queues, mostly on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, the busiest days for flights.
More rigorous security checks have slowed things down, but there is an underlying serious staff shortage at Paphos.
According to recent traveller Donna Smith many passengers are taking in excess of two hours to go through the necessary processes.
“It’s an absolute shambles. I was travelling to the UK and not enough passport desks were operational and the queues were massive. I heard people saying that although they had a lovely holiday in Cyprus, they may not come back because of it. It’s stressful enough travelling, but Paphos airport is a nightmare,” she said.
“I understand that security checks have been upped and I’m glad of that, but there just aren’t enough security staff to cope with the demand. It needs to be sorted out and quickly.”
Airport operator Hermes has sent numerous letters to the government, asking for adequate personnel to meet the needs of both Paphos and Larnaca airports
“We are expecting the responsible authorities to resolve the matter and swiftly,” said Hermes spokesman Adamos Aspris.
Hadjigeorgiou is also urging the government to take immediate steps.
“All concerned parties agree that the numbers of immigration staff and police need to be increased, this is the key and will end the problem,” he said. “We have officially requested that the ministry concerned accelerates the procedure. The image of Paphos and Cyprus is suffering due to the long queues and inconvenience to passengers.”
A frequent traveller to Paphos, who wishes only to be known as ‘Elizabeth’, often visits her apartment in the coastal town. She said that she has never experienced such chaos as she did at the airport earlier this month. The holidaymaker said that although security was vital, so were happy returning passengers, and it was obvious there were not enough staff at busy periods.
“I returned to Edinburgh on May 16, and in the 10 years I have been coming to Cyprus, I have never experienced such a chaotic shambles. I appreciate the need for security, but staff must be put in place to deal with the volume of passengers now passing through Paphos airport,” she said. “Passport control and security are understaffed for the volume of passengers travelling.”
She said that it was unacceptable that passengers had to endure over an hour queuing to pass through security and then a further hour for passport control. This left no time to eat or browse at airport shops, she said.
“Passengers were so fraught and complaining, that the captain announced he had put in a report to head office (Easyjet) regarding the queues at security and passport control.”
Elizabeth also complained about the lack of information which left passengers scrambling to reach their designated gates in time to board the aircraft.
“There was only an announcement for the flight on the loudspeaker – the boards didn’t display the gate number. Passengers were asking other passengers for help. I have travelled through many airports and never experienced anything like it, it was an unpleasant experience.”
A police spokesman told the Sunday Mail that the chief of police was concerned about the ongoing problems and was trying to find solutions, but added the police force is hampered by general staff shortages which affect staffing levels at the airports.
“Wednesday is the worst day. There is one flight directly after another. They could be better staggered, as there isn’t much time between them and it will increase now due to the summer,” he said.
But Hadijeorgiou said rescheduling flights was not an option.
“Charter flights combine with other networks, so it’s not easy to change the day of the schedule. More staff would alleviate the problem,” he said.
The police spokesman agreed that more staff are needed at immigration and security.
“The minister of justice has put forward a proposal to the government for employing 300 more police, some of which would be at the airport. Parliament has to give the go ahead and so we are waiting to be able to go ahead with the procedures required.”
But Hadjigeorgiou warned that time was of the essence. “We know what needs to be done and the initiative should be taken as soon as possible as time is pressing.”
A spokesman for the justice ministry confirmed that they have completed all of the necessary paperwork required to employ 300 more police officers. The application has been lodged with the finance ministry.
“They will examine it and hopefully we will get the go ahead. The extra staff will fill the gaps and help ease the problem,” the spokesman said.