BEIRUT: The Lebanese national airline hit by the crisis will only accept payments in US dollars as of Monday, according to state media.
Lebanon is immersed in an economic collapse and a scathing liquidity crisis that has caused local currency to depreciate in the parallel market and that banks impose strict controls on withdrawals and transfers abroad.
“From Monday, the Middle East (Airlines) and other airlines operating in Lebanon will only accept payments in US dollars,” the National News Agency (NNA) said Sunday.
Following the announcement, dozens of customers crowded the offices of MEA at the Beirut airport, the only one opened on Sunday, hoping to pay their tickets in Lebanese pounds, according to images shown on local television.
Middle East Airlines (MEA) is majority owned by the Lebanese state and is managed by the country’s central bank.
The Lebanese pound has been officially linked to 1,507 pounds per US dollar since 1997, and the two currencies are used interchangeably in the small Middle Eastern country.
But in recent months, the pound has sunk against the dollar in the parallel exchange market.
Informal monetary controls imposed since late last year have caused public outrage in the country hit by protests, where a popular anti-government movement launched on October 17 has become increasingly angry at banking policies.
Major banks in Lebanon began adjusting bank controls this month, halving the amount of dollars depositors can withdraw each month.
It will still be possible to complete certain transactions, such as modifying reservations and paying excess baggage, in local currency at Beirut airport, the NNA said, adding that travelers can pay by check or card, provided the account is in currency foreign
Until now, MEA offices had continued to accept payments in pounds at the official rate and Sunday’s announcement was met with an angry response on social media.
“MEA: a national airline that does not accept payments in its own national currency. The logic redefined, ”wrote a Twitter user.
Another one published in response to the news: “The Middle East (MEA) belongs to the Lebanese state, it is a flagrant violation of the law. We are not heading for collapse, we are in the middle.”
The head of the central bank said in January that he agreed with the exchange houses that limited the parallel rate to 2,000, but the price of the dollar in some exchanges continues to rise.