By Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) – Long lines of passengers forced to wait hours at Lisbon airport are unlikely to ease into the main summer tourist season despite plans to almost double border control staff, the union chief for Portugal’s border and immigration service SEF warned on Monday.
On Sunday, passengers waited for more than three hours in arrivals at the capital’s airport, according to airport management company ANA, which in a statement blamed the SEF for insufficient numbers of staff and border checkpoints.
SEF union chief Acacio Pereira told Reuters that Lisbon airport was “an old facility”, unable to handle the leap in passengers numbers after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
He accused ANA of poorly managing the distribution of Lisbon-bound flights, having channeled 60 through the airport on Sunday in a short period of time.
Border staff checked more than 100,000 people at Portuguese airports on Saturday and Sunday, half of them in Lisbon, he said, adding that the SEF “has a duty to guarantee the country’s security”.
Portugal saw the number of passengers through its airports soar to 3.6 million in March, eight times higher than in the same month of 2021, and only 16% below 2019 pre-pandemic levels, according to the National Institute of Statistics.
The government plans to hire 238 new border control officers at Portugal’s six airports by 4 July, bringing the total number to 529.
Pereira said it would not solve the airport’s “incapacity” to receive so many passengers, adding: “The summer will continue to be problematic.”
Across Europe, airports and airlines are struggling to find more workers and minimize cancelled flights and passengers delays as travel recovers.
Cristina Siza Vieira, chief executive of Portugal’s hotel association AHP, told Reuters the airport queues were “bad for the country’s image” and could cool demand from markets outside Europe including from North America, Canada and Brazil.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves, editing by Aislinn Laing and Keith Weir)