Libya: Fear and Chaos at Tripoli Airport

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

Fear, chaos, hysteria and despair – all these words have been used to describe Libyan capital Tripoli's airport over the past few days. Since uprisings began against the country's leader Colonel Muammar Al Gaddafi on the night of February 16, 2011 (#Feb17), Libya has been in a state of uncertainty.

Thousands of foreign nationals, mostly expat workers, have been trying to flee the country, gathering in Tripoli airport to catch embassy and some airline flights out.

This video from Al Jazeera describes the chaos that passengers at the airport are experiencing:

Reactions from Twitter

Here are some descriptions of Tripoli airport amidst the crisis from the Twittersphere, these from 24 February, 2011:

@acarvin “The airport is just a zoo. There's about 10k people there, all trying to get out.” -Ewan Black to the BBC, regarding Tripoli airport.

@SiconianGirl Tripoli Airport chaos thousands of people stranded no facilities only 1 toilet no food and all roads to Airport closed #Libya Will B Freed

@aseemrastogi2 Dangerous times ! Amateur video captures chaos at Tripoli airport

From 25 February, 2011:

@vali_nasr Tripoli airport has an air of ‘Dante's Inferno’ #Libya

@Addickbitch_hut Tourist at Tripoli airport – ‘Your worst nightmare of pop concerts and football hooligans all mixed into one. It was unbelievable.’

On Facebook on Friday 25 February, Shahrizal Dzulkifli describes his experience trying to escape Libya:

now in Tunisia after managed to get out of Libya via plane after 12 hours of agonizing, scary, cold and brutal situation at the Tripoli airport…now waiting for next transit…maybe to Rome…Million thanx to Malaysian Embassy and Tunisia Airways for bringing us out….

Crimes Reported

Frustrated and frightened passengers are apparently not only being faced with the uncertainty of leaving, but also with various forms of crimes that have been reported at the airport. From 24 February, 2011:

@Matchbox20 #Libya policemen r blackmailing #Egyptians & taking their money at #Tripoli airport to let them go & catch their flghts, Please Spread.

Jurunilai Pemimpin Umno detailed the new costs fleeing foreigners are facing on Facebook:

LIBYA – ” Signs of the decay and the end of regimes that I've seen elsewhere is happening now. People are asking for bribes. If you want to do anything in the airport, it will cost you. A $20 taxi ride to Tripoli airport now costs $200 “.

And from 25 February, 2011:

@sneakinghorze “We had to bribe #Libyan security, who controlled certain streets of #Tripoli, in order to make it to the airport,” ;Maged Ahmed, #Cairo,

@gwkell Tripoli airport staff asking for ‘special payments’ stall Libya evacuations – Travel Daily UK: Tripoli airport s…

@itv_news FCO: “Officials at Tripoli airport charge fees for services, such as aircraft handling. In the current situation, these fees have increased”

Challenging Journeys

Some airlines and companies undertaking the evacuation of their employees have been reported as behaving poorly towards passengers; other passengers feel let down by the way their governments have managed the situation:

@ks1141 Egypt Air in Tripoli bumped off pregnant Asian woman even tho she has a valid business class ticket! Still stuck at airport in Tripoli. [24 February]

Jamie Holden (via Facebook on 25 February):

Can you imagine what it was like for brits at Tripoli airport to be told by UK oil company charter evacuation flights that, if you weren't oil co personnel you had to pay!!!!!!!!! Totally unbelievable! Rip-off Britain. This one needs a Parliamentary investigation & who-ever made this decision should spend a long holiday at Her Majesty's pleasure!

Suresh Goyal (via Facebook on 25 February):

Most countries’ envoys are at Tripoli airport facilitating rescue operations. Not a single Indian officer, says a Libya returnee, If a Kottayam-based Libya returnee is to be believed, the Army has taken hostage many Indians. Little or no help from the Indian mission

@theprovince Canadian evacuation plane leaves #Libya empty. No Canadians were at airport in Tripoli, official says: [25 February]

Some have avoided the airport entirely by fleeing Libya via its neighbouring countries:

@Towntwinner RT @britishabroad: #Libya We have teams at Tripoli airport, on HMS Cumberland, and Egypt/Libya border. For assistance call 021 3403644/45 [25 February]

@allawati Landed in Alex. Burg al Arab airport has hundreds of Tunisians fleeing Libya. They drove east from Benghazi to fly west to Tunisia [25 February]

Any information about new incoming planes offers fresh hope to those stranded at the airport. One of the most important sources of information is the website that makes available online real-time aircraft traffic coverage. The website provides key details about the flight, the current position of aircraft in the air, time of departure and arrival time, and initial and final destination:

@clandestinooooo 1 avion de l'Armee de l'Air Francaise CTM0209 vers Tripoli [22 February]

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

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