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.

Biden’s transition gets green light as Trump at last relents

Updated 24 November 2020

Biden’s transition gets green light as Trump at last relents

  • Trump tweeted that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition

WASHINGTON: The federal government recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election on Monday, formally starting the transition of power after President Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. He relented after suffering yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.
Trump still refused to concede and vowed to continue to fight in court after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy gave the green light for Biden to coordinate with federal agencies ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration. But Trump did tweet that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition.
Monday’s fast-moving series of events seemed to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people in what has amounted to a weekslong stress test for American democracy. But Trump’s attempts to foment a crisis of confidence in the political system and the fairness of US elections haven’t ended and are likely to persist well beyond his lame-duck presidency.
Murphy, explaining her decision, cited “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.”
She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Biden’s victory in the battleground state, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.
It also comes as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Biden’s victory, after weeks of tolerating Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. The president had grown increasingly frustrated with the flailing tactics of his legal team.
“With Michigan’s certifying (its) results, Joe Biden has over 270 electoral college votes,” tweeted Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. “President Trump’s legal team has not presented evidence of the massive fraud which would have had to be present to overturn the election. I voted for President Trump but Joe Biden won.”
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”
He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”
Murphy, a Trump appointee, has faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Biden’s team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration. The delay denied Biden access to receive highly classified national security briefings and hindered his team’s ability to begin drawing up its own plans to respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Murphy insisted she acted on her own.
“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official— including those who work at the White House or GSA— with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” she wrote in a letter to Biden.
Trump tweeted moments after Murphy’s decision: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”
Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, criticized the delay but said Biden’s team would be able to overcome it.
“Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country’s greatest challenges,” he said. “The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the GSA action “is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue.″ Noting that the nation “faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition,″ Schumer urged Democrats and Republicans to “unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America.″
Murphy’s action came just 90 minutes after Michigan election officials certified Biden’s 154,000-vote victory in the state. The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one GOP abstention. Trump and his allies had hoped to block the vote to allow time for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, where Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud. Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes there.
Under Michigan law, Biden claims all 16 electoral votes. Biden won by 2.8 percentage points — a larger margin than in other states where Trump is contesting the results like Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Some Trump allies had expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify. That long-shot bid is no longer possible in Michigan.
“The people of Michigan have spoken. President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, and he will be our next president on January 20th,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement, saying it’s “time to put this election behind us.”
The Trump legal team dismissed the certification as “simply a procedural step” and insisted it would continue to mount legal challenges.
Trump’s efforts to stave off the inevitable — formal recognition of his defeat — have faced increasingly stiff resistance from the courts and fellow Republicans with just three weeks to go until the Electoral College meets to certify Biden’s victory. Time and again, Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread conspiracy and fraud have been met with rejection as states move forward with confirming their results.
Trump was increasingly frustrated by his legal team, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose erratic public performances drew bipartisan mockery in recent weeks. Still, the legal challenges were expected to continue, as Trump seeks to keep his supporters on his side and keep his options open for opportuntities post-presidency.
In Pennsylvania on Saturday, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign’s biggest legal effort in the state with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.
But the lawyers still hope to block the state’s certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.
The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so it could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.
Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.
Pennsylvania county election boards were voting on Monday, the state deadline, about whether to certify election results to the Department of State. The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.
In Wisconsin, a recount in the state’s two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day at a slow pace, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were hanging up the process with frequent challenges. Trump’s hope of reversing Biden’s victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots — — including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Trump’s own campaign attorneys in Dane County.
Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, Jonathan Lemire in New York, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this report.
Summary :
The federal government has recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election. That formally starts the transition of power after President Donald Trump has spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. The move came after Trump suffered yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud. Trump still has refused to concede the election. But Monday’s fast-moving series of events seems to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people.