On my recent crazy little trip I had a 2.5hr connection in Beirut. It turned into a test of patience.
Last time I flew out of Beirut was 2011. I visited the Middle East Airlines Cedar Lounge prior to the flight and liked it very much—
This time, I was looking forward to a return visit. Sadly, I almost missed the flight. There was no lounge time. This despite the fact that all flights were on time…
When I checked in way back in Los Angeles two days before, the thru-check-in system only checked me as far as Beirut even though the final destination was Istanbul. Perhaps it was because the final Beirut-Istanbul flight departed not next day, but +2 days.
Anyway, that meant I had to visit a transit desk in Beirut. No problem…or so I thought.
Upon disembarking from my flight from Cairo, I followed the signs for transit. That meant heading downstairs then down a long hall. At the end of hall was immigration and to the left was the transit desk.
An agent was sitting there doing something with his mobile phone. I presented my passport to him and remakred that I needed to check-in for my Turkish flight. He told me had had to get a Turkish agent and walked away. Thankfully he did not take my passport.
45 minutes passed and he did not reappear. No one did. I’m a pretty patient guy, but this was certainly stretching the limits of my patience. What kept me sane was 30-minutes of complimentary wi-fi. Once that ran out, the system would not let me buy more time and Lebanon is out of coverage for T-Mobile ($3.29/minute for calls, exorbitant fees for slow data).
The Boiling Point
Finally, I approached one of the uniformed soldiers/agents who was manning the adjacent security checkpoint. He did not appear to speak much English, but understood what I wanted and picked up a phone and tried to call someone.
No answer, he said, using hand motions. During my wait I had checked in online and presented a mobile boarding pass to him. May I go upstairs?
No, he said. He either did not understand mobile boarding passes or did want to accept it.
He tired calling again. And again. And again.
Another 30 minutes passed and by now I was getting frantic. There was 45 minutes till flight departure. I suggested that I go through immigration, proceed upstairs, and get my ticket at the counter.
He shook his head and told me to sit down. 15 more minutes passed. He kept making phone calls. Finally, he reached someone and told me “Turkish” was coming downstairs to get me.
15 more minutes passed and a Turkish-uniformed agent appeared. She was shocked to learn that I had been waiting for two hours, but did not apologize. Instead, she just said, “I didn’t know.”
She led me upstairs, where flight boarding had already begun. Three agents were unable to print my boarding pass so they hand-wrote one for me.
I missed the lounge, but made the flight. Beware of long transits in Beirut. Try to have your boarding pass beforehand.
I left out one heartwarming detail.
In a touch of humanity, the soldier gave me some of his grandmother’s homemade Man’oushe (like flatbread pizza) when he saw I was getting anxious after no agents appeared. What a gracious and hospitable gesture. Breaking bread with a stranger at an airport transit desk in the Middle East: just another night of traveling.
p.s. People don’t obey signs in Beirut. Perhaps I should have just walked upstairs and see if they stopped me.