CHAOS ensued at Paphos airport on Wednesday after arriving flights backed up by delays left hundreds of passengers crushed into insufficient space for hours, and with no crowd control whatsoever.
Passengers, many of them frail and elderly, were herded into a confined space towards understaffed passport control desks and kept waiting for hours, according to one passenger.
Frequent flyer, Christina Ball, told the Sunday Mail that conditions were ‘horrific’, adding that she contacted the paper after she attempted to complain to airport staff after the fiasco, but could find no one in charge.
“To say that it was a horrific experience would be a gross understatement,” she said.
Ball has a home on the island and has been using Paphos airport for more than a decade and Larnaca for around 30 years. She said she had never experienced such a shambolic entry into Cyprus as she did on Wednesday night. Concerned by the total lack of crowd safety measures, she took a number of pictures using her mobile phone.
The passenger said that along with many others, she had been left shaken by the experience and was concerned for the many elderly passengers who found it particularly frightening.
“There was no information, no instructions, no advice, no barriers, some people were panicking and very upset; it was a shambles.”
Wednesdays and Sundays are particularly busy days for both Paphos and Larnaca airports as most of the budget airlines such as easyJet, Thomson and Ryanair fly on those days.
But Ball’s experience was exacerbated by a series of delayed flights arriving at once.
Ball was travelling to Paphos on an easyJet flight which landed just after 5pm on Wednesday. As the flight was coming in to land, the pilot announced they would have to wait for a spot, as there was congestion on the runway. As they came into land, she noted six or seven Thomson planes, and aircrafts from Ryanair, easyJet and Germanwings, which had already landed.
“There may have been even more,” she said.
When they exited the aircraft they walked towards passport control to discover a packed space which they were forced to enter.
“Inside there were unmanned passport desks, and we realised that we were at the opposite end of the room from usual entry, and where there were around four manned desks. It was a melee, there were so many people and there were even more passengers from new aircraft landings behind us.”
Ball said that these new passengers were being directed into the already packed room, so that people were pushed even further forward into the crush.
Ball said that it was impossible for passengers to reach the opposite end of the hall where passports were being checked as no-one in the press of hundreds of people. It took Ball two hours to reach passport control.
According to Ball, although the passport control staff changed shift during this two hour period, no other staff came on duty and no other desks were opened.
“I have never experienced anything like it in all my years of travelling to and from Cyprus. I will advise all my friends and family, as I’m doing, to use Larnaca if they are travelling on a Wednesday and stay away from Paphos,” she said.
Paphos handled 15 flights last Wednesday while Larnaca, a bigger airport, handled 14. With the start of the summer season on March 29, Wednesday flights will rise to 19 for Paphos and 21 for Larnaca.
Hermes, the company which operates both airports, expressed their sympathy for Ball and her fellow passengers’ experience.
The company said it highlighted the need for more staff and updated software to facilitate swifter passport control checks, particularly at Paphos airport, that they had long asked for.
“Hermes Airports expresses concern over the delays that have been observed at Paphos airport’s passport control and the inconvenience this has caused to passengers,” an official from the company said.
“With the aim of preventing any problems, particularly as the summer season approaches and passenger traffic increases, Hermes Airports has been in constant communication with those state departments responsible for passport control over the past few months, to find immediate solutions and arrangements that will ensure swifter procedures.”
Ball said that she advocates strict security and travellers understand that queues can build up and flights can be delayed. But she said there was no excuse for Wednesday’s fiasco.
“This matter needs to be raised at the highest level and the airport needs to get this sorted urgently.”