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

A worker cleans the windshield of an Air France-KLM plane at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy, France, June 19, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 May 2020

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

  • Air France offering two flights a week from June 12 but industry experts expect passenger numbers to be low
  • The 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

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.

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 50 min 11 sec ago

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”