Flights to resume between France and Lebanon… but who will fly?

PARIS: As French authorities continue to gradually ease the coronavirus lockdown, Air France has announced that flights to and from Lebanon will resume on June 12, four days after Beirut International Airport reopens.

Two flights a week in each direction will be available initially, on Saturdays and Sundays, and tickets went on sale on the airline’s website on Monday afternoon. It will use 450-seat Boeing 777s on the route.

“Tickets can also be purchased from our agency in downtown Beirut, which will reopen on Tuesday, May 26,” Matthieu Tétaud, the general manager of Air France KLM group for the Near East told the Lebanese French-language daily newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour. “We are holding discussions with local travel agencies to determine the terms for resale of tickets.”

Jean Abboud, the president of the Association of Travel and Tourist Agents in Lebanon, said many of the sector’s biggest names are expected to be back in business in early June. They have been at a standstill in Lebanon since the authorities there declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said a number of airlines, including Emirates, are preparing to resume flights to and from Beirut. In addition, Lebanon’s national carrier, Middle East Airlines, has resumed ticket sales and plans to operate flights from Beirut International when the airport reopens.

The weekly Air France flights to Beirut will depart Paris-Charles de Gaulle at 9.05 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and return to the French capital later in the day. Before the pandemic, the airline operated several daily flights.

“This is a skeleton service that should be expanded with a third weekly flight, planned for July, should the situation change as we hope,” said Tétaud.

“Air France has operated at 5 percent of its capacity in recent months, with only a few internal flights and some long-haul ones.”

The airline has announced stringent health precautions that will be enforced when flights resume. All passengers, crew members and anyone else who comes in contact with passengers must wear a mask at all times during the journey. Changes will be made in airport terminals to ensure social distancing can be maintained, and protective screens will be installed where possible.

Aircraft will be thoroughly cleaned each day, and commonly touched surfaces, including armrests, tray tables and video screens, will be disinfected. In addition, interiors will be sprayed with an approved antivirus agent that remains effective for 10 days.

In-flight services will change to limit contact between passengers and crew. On long-haul flights, cabin service will be limited and food will be individually wrapped.

The air in the cabin will be renewed every three minutes. The air recycling system on Air France aircraft is equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filters identical to those used in hospital operating theaters. They extract more than 99.9 percent of contaminants, including viruses.

However, the airline did not guarantee that social distancing will be maintained on the aircraft.

“Air France has not limited the number of seats on sale per aircraft, but plans to space and separate passengers whenever possible,” said Tétaud. “Having said that, we do expect the seat-occupancy rate to be low.”

Ticket prices for the flights to Lebanon start at $296 for a one-way ticket and $614 for a round trip.

Tétaud said the airline has adapted its payment procedures in response to the restrictions established by Lebanese banks in recent months, in parallel with the economic and financial crisis the country is experiencing, and the steep depreciation of the Lebanese lira against the dollar.

No decision has been made about the seasonal ticket-price changes that are common in the airline industry, said Tétaud. “Everyone is muddling through,” he added.

Abboud said that the International Air Transport Association expects fares to increase as a result of expectations of low occupancy rates.

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