Following recent scenes of chaos at Paphos airport which left hundreds of passengers waiting for hours to clear passport control, new measures were tried this week to reduce processing times.
This includes software upgrades at passport control and drafting in extra staff.
Pictures of hundreds of tourists packed into the arrivals hall for as long as three hours have gone viral on social networking sites in recent weeks.
The Sunday Mail visited the airport for four hours (3.30-7.30pm) on Wednesday, the airport’s busiest day. During that time there were 21 flight arrivals and 21 departures, catering for around 7,700 passengers.
Instead of the expected queues of weary, frustrated passengers, the airport was running smoothly and efficiently, even though so many flights were landing at the same time.
Yiannis Harpas, Paphos airport’s senior manager of operations for Hermes, the company that runs both Paphos and Larnaca airports, told the Sunday Mail on Wednesday that a decision had been taken by the authorities for a ‘soft’ trial of upgraded software at passport control desks.
He said he was hopeful that these upgrades would now be permanent. In addition, extra staff have been brought in on overtime and drafted in from Larnaca airport, to ensure shorter passenger processing times on busy days.
This meant that on Wednesday, all booths were manned for the first time in a long time, with the exception of a 13th desk which is only used for persons of reduced mobility. Passengers had previously complained of staff at only six or seven desks.
“We have been pushing for improvements such as these and we are very pleased to see the airport running so smoothly today,” said Harpas,
“However, we are concerned that this has to be the norm and not the exception. We need this level of support and there need to be further software upgrades, enough equipment available, such as scanners, and more staff on a regular basis.”
He said that the extra necessary security checks following recent terrorist attacks abroad can triple or even quadruple passenger processing times and further staff were needed at the airport to speed up the process particularly on Wednesdays, Sundays and to a lesser extent, Saturdays.
“We give out all of the information to all those involved about when the peak time of passenger flow will be, and passenger numbers, in order for them to respond to ensure all of the booths are open in both arrivals and departures. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen, and often only seven out of the 13 are open.”
A flurry of complaints over delays led to the Coordinating Committee of Parties and Organisations (SEKO), headed by Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos, to call on the ministry of justice, which is responsible for providing police at immigration checks, to ensure that staff are increased at passport control. SEKO said that a number of tour operators had warned that they would cease using Paphos airport if the problem wasn’t fixed.
Harpas added that numerous appeals made by Hermes to the justice ministry had also gone unheeded.
“As I understand, the problems are economic. The police don’t have enough staff to send us,” he said.
Attempts by Hermes to negotiate with airlines flying on the busiest days to see if they could spread out flights during the week were unsuccessful he said.
The police have denied that a lack of staff was the problem, arguing that the main issue was because the airport was not built to handle so many passengers.
They added that appropriate measures to improve passenger service had been taken, without jeopardising matters of security. They also said that they had allocated additional staff to the airport, and implemented flexible hours.
“The problem relates mainly to issues of the airport’s infrastructure, which is designed to serve limited numbers of passengers, whereas on days of increased passenger activity, it serves passenger numbers that are multiple times its capacity,” a police statement said.
Harpas dismissed this claim and said that Paphos airport was perfectly capable of meeting the demand, as long as staffing levels were acceptable and software used to process passengers was up to date.
“At both airports, Hermes currently processes approximately 7.5 million passengers on both inbound and outbound flights, this figure is 2.7 million at Paphos, and the rest is at Larnaca,” he said. “The infrastructure is more than capable of sustaining these numbers.”
For the passengers themselves, the reason behind the delays are immaterial. They are just eager to start their holidays, and on Wednesday, at least, that went according to plan.