x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Hundreds stranded at Sharjah airport over eye-scan malfunction

Iris-scanning glitch at Sharjah International Airport strands hundreds of passengers for almost nine hours.

SHARJAH // Hundreds of visitors were stuck at Sharjah International Airport for nearly nine hours yesterday because of a technical problem in all six of the airport's eye-scan machines.

About 300 frustrated passengers from Air Arabia flights and several more who arrived on other airlines were waiting for immigration authorities to complete their iris scans early yesterday.

Residents said there was chaos in the arrival lounges.

"My parents arrived from Cochin by the 6am flight," said Dinesh Nair, who arrived to pick them up at 6.15am. "They were told there was a problem with the eye-scan machines.

"Some passengers were over 80 years old and were not carrying any money with them to buy themselves anything to eat or drink. There was utter chaos at the airport."

The machines, operated by Abu Dhabi Police, scan the irises of passengers who have temporary visit visas to detect fake passport holders and stop deportees re-entering the country.

When contacted, Abu Dhabi Police would not explain how the problem started, why it lasted so long or how it was resolved.

Mr Nair said he was upset that the authorities had no alternative plans in place, leaving his elderly parents stranded.

The airport declined to comment but a source there said yesterday staff had been working to resolve the problem.

"The eye-scan system is down," the source said earlier in the day. "It is down from Abu Dhabi since 5am. Passengers are waiting. They are looking into it with the Ministry of Interior."

Another passenger said the wait had exhausted him.

"I took an overnight flight," said P?S Sivaramakrishnan, 66, who was on the Air Arabia flight to Sharjah.

"We were asked to wait since the eye-scan machines stopped working. Every plane had 20 to 30 passengers who were on visit visas and had to get their eyes scanned. I was very tired by the end of it."

Residents said airport authorities had done little to explain the delay.

"None of the authorities came to explain what was wrong," said Mr Jai Krishnan. "We will have to rethink taking flights from the Sharjah airport again."

Air Arabia said it provided its passengers with free food and soft drinks.

"Around 300 Air Arabia passengers came in the morning," an airline spokesman said. "We provided them meals, soft drinks and a rest area. We had extra ground staff available until the system was clear."

pkannan@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Manal Ismail and Thamer Al Subaihi