Budapest Airport in the time of coronavirus lockdown
It was in the middle of March when it turned out that one of the two terminals of Budapest Airport will be closed indefinitely. It would have seemed unbelievable even a month before.
We’ve both been working at Budapest Airport (at the security department) for a few years now. We handled periods with lower passenger traffic in each year but what happened this spring… It was completely frightening.
Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport is located 16 kilometres from the city center of Budapest. In 2019, the airport handled 16 173 489 passengers. The airport has won the award for ‘Best Airport in Eastern Europe’ for the seventh time this year. Expected passenger traffic was estimated at 17 million this year. For years, traffic has been growing steadily. Until March.
We heard news about the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) weeks before but the whole thing seemed so distant. I think we all knew that it will reach our country and when it finally happened, no one knew what to expect.
Events quickly followed one another. On 18th March the terminal 2A closed. We went to work very early as always, usually to 4 a.m. There was always a crowd then but no one was there this time. No one. There was no one on the whole terminal except us who went to work. The whole situation was very scary. It was like a ghost-airport or something like that.
About Budapest Airport
For better understanding, a note about the construction of the airport. You can go through the security on both 2A and 2B terminal, you will get to the same point inside, because after the security checkpoints you will realize that there’s one huge duty free shop which connects the two terminals. And after the security checkpoints there’s another world with every kind of shops, restaurants, smoking terrace, bars and a wall full of windows so you can see the planes actually arriving or departing. So this is a really nice place to spend your time until the departure time.
But after things changed, this place became a depressing one. The shops and almost all the restaurants were closed for at least 2 and a half months.
There was only one opened restaurant during the whole period, mostly the workers went there for lunch. Outside the terminal there’s a shop, it was open every day and nothing else. All the car rental offices, tobacco shop, everything was completely dark and closed.
The hardest period: April
Let me write some sentences about the numbers. In March 2019, the airport handled more than 1.1 million passengers. In March 2020, this number was about 500 000. It’s almost 60 percent decline.
In April, the situation became quite unthinkable.
Just check the numbers. Compared to April 2019, the number of handled passengers decreased by 99.3 %. More specifically, in April 2019, the airport handled exactly 1 337 871 passengers. In April 2020, this number was… drumbeat…
It means that the average was 329 passengers per day. Three hundred and twenty-nine. Instead of the ordinary 30-40 thousands per day.
Perhaps the most frightening was the silence. We are used to barely hear each other’s voices in the crowd. And now? The silence was so great that many times the whispering also seemed like a shout. A lot of us became depressed in those weeks.
How to keep the workers
Of course, like many companies, we could not avoid downsizing either. We had to say goodbye to a small group of our colleagues. But our due respect to our company because they did everything they could to keep their workers. For example, during these months we could work half time for half pay. It’s much better than to lose our jobs.
About half of our security staff has been offered to do other jobs. Like sanitizing on different parts of the airport, or they got new uniform with a huge i letter on it and they gave information of the passengers about the new situations. During this period, the airport made several modernization works, and there is a group of the security staff guys who helped for example to repaint walls and barriers to give them a nicer look. And this way when the huge amount of passengers will be here with us again they can see the efforts to stay a nice place to fly from.
So a word like a hundred, the company tried to keep as many workers as they could and this is a very respectful purpose and we are all grateful for that.
May, June and the future
In may, Budapest Airport handled 22 813 passengers. Yup! Last year this number was 1 411 593… But at least we saw that something started.
In June, the restaurants and the shops finally opened their doors, we had at least 20 flights per day. For example in April, there were days when we had 5-6 flights with a very low amount of passengers). Now this is the first week of July and we are very optimistic about our future.
The hall of the terminal 2A is still closed due to a floor renovation project (and remain closed about the end of July). But now it’s not scary anymore. Because we know that it’s not closed because we don’t have flights but because of necessary reconditioning. There are hardworking people inside the closed hall, sometimes we can hear them shouting to each other, so there’s no silence anymore 🙂
The bars, restaurants, shops opened their doors again. All freshly cleaned, disinfected, shiny and attractive. The construction of two new security control lines has started earlier and will be completed soon, the new x-ray machines are eager to screen luggages 🙂 There is an average of 40-45 flights per day. Usually a lot of people smoking at the front of the terminal, grumbling at the security, buying their new perfumes or souvenirs in the duty free shops, having a nice lunch at the restaurants, a drink in the bar and just hanging around until their departure time. There is no silence here either, but we don’t even mind now 🙂