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Travel spike causes mass delays at airport; situation likely to worsen over Passover

Passengers now advised to arrive at Ben Gurion four hours before flights as airport struggles to implement COVID protocols, scale-up from cutbacks

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on March 2, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on March 2, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A bounce back after two years of travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has seen Ben Gurion Airport overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people flying abroad and record the highest daily number of passengers on Sunday since the start of the outbreak.

Airlines are now advising passengers to arrive four hours before their flights in order to make it in time to board the plane, Channel 12 News reported.

In some cases, passengers have recently waited over five hours to get to the plane, the channel said.

The rush of travelers saw 50,000 people pass through Israel’s main international airport on Sunday, the most since COVID first reached the country in early 2020. The expectation is that as the Passover holiday approaches the numbers will only increase.

But, airport director Shmuel Zakai explained that while the numbers may be returning to their past highs, COVID-19 has left the airport with depleted resources of staff and facilities, resulting in longer waits in line for the check-ins.

In Terminal 3, the primary exit point for flights abroad, 45 check-in counters have been commandeered for COVID testing, Zakai said. In addition, authorities have discovered that 1,200 workers who were put on unpaid leave while international travel was frozen for much of the pandemic have, in the meantime, found other jobs and won’t be returning.

“To train security people takes time, something like a few months,” Zakai noted.

He admitted that the current situation “is not how it should be” but advised people to accept it and adjust.

“The world has changed and we need to adapt to a new reality,” he told the network.

General Manager of Ben Gurion Airport, Shmuel Zakai, in the Knesset, June 24, 2014. (Flash 90)

Zakai said airport staff are doing all that they could to improve the situation, including opening up Terminal 1 for check-ins.

A million people are expected to pass through the airport this month, according to the report. In April, which includes the week-long Passover holiday that falls on the 15th of the month, the number is expected to jump to 1.6 million.

While acknowledging the difficulties travelers are facing will only get worse, Zakai also took an upbeat view of the circumstances.

“I know that anything I say won’t manage to comfort a traveler who comes for a flight, but first of all we have been waiting for two years for this moment when Ben Gurion is crowded and people are flying abroad.”

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