When you're the only national carrier in a country amidst an ongoing crisis, the last thing you'd want is to be the people's sworn enemy. Middle East Airlines (MEA), Lebanon's solo national carrier, was subject to aggressive online and offline backlash after announcing it will only accept payments in U.S. dollars.
In a statement from the airline on Feb. 15, MEA said all airlines operating in Lebanon will only accept payments in U.S. dollars, adding that "all card payments will be accepted in addition to bank checks, provided that the operation is in foreign currency."
Crowds of people rushed to the MEA office at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport in an effort to purchase tickets in Lebanese pounds before the decision comes into full effect. However, the airline quickly reversed its decision that same day following a request from Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who will also meet with the airline's board members to discuss reasons behind their initial decision.
The company's retraction, however, didn't stop the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and son-in-law of Lebanon's President Gebran Bassil from filing a lawsuit against the airline with the help of lawyer Wadih Akl.
Bassil accused MEA of "violating the laws and depriving the Lebanese of their simplest rights, including traveling with their available currency." He also added that not accepting Lebanon's national currency is a criminal offense, violating "the text stipulated in the 2020 state budget, which makes national currency transactions binding."
MEA's decision added fuel to the fire as Lebanon's economy spirals into recession
MEA is majority-owned by the Lebanese state and administrated by the country's central bank.
The Lebanese pound has been suffering continuously for over six months, tumbling in value with respect to the U.S. dollar on the black market, with Lebanese banks imposing capital control (aka deposit restrictions) on individuals.
The value of the national currency against the U.S. dollar fell from the maintained 1,507-1,517 LBP to as high as 2,510 LBP in February 2020. Ironically, however, the Central Bank has maintained the official peg at 1,507 LBP.
Even though the electrifying decision has been reversed, the damage has more or less been done. The Lebanese are already brimming with stress and anxiety, and the last thing they needed was yet another reason to lose hope in attaining any decent future for their homeland.
Losses will ultimately circle back to the aviation company after it's been forced to reverse its decision, for it will suffer hits by the black market value of the Lebanese pound.