Middle East Airlines – Air Liban S.A.L, more commonly known as Middle East Airlines (MEA), is the national Lebanese carrier. It operates scheduled international flights to Asia, Europe, the Middle East from its base at Rafic Hariri International Airport.
Middle East Airlines was founded on 31 May 1945 by Saeb Salam and Fawzi EL-Hoss with operational and technical support from BOAC. Operations started on 1 January 1946 using three de Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapides on flights between Beirut and Nicosia, followed by flights to Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus. Two Douglas DC-3s were acquired in mid-1946. Pan American acquired a stake and management contract in September 1949.
Pan Am was replaced when BOAC acquired 49% of MEA’s shares in 1955. A Vickers Viscount was introduced in October 1955 while an Avro York cargo aircraft was leased in June 1957. On 15 December 1960 the first of four de Havilland Comet 4Cs arrived. After the association with BOAC ended on 16 August 1961, MEA was merged with Air Liban on 7 June 1963, which gave Air France a 30% holding, since relinquished. The full title was then Middle East Airlines – Air Liban.
In 1963 MEA also took over Lebanese International. The fleet was modernised with the addition of three Sud Aviation Caravelles, in April 1963; three Boeing 720 Bs, in January 1966; one leased Vickers VC 10, in March 1967; and a number of Boeing 706-320Cs, from November 1967.
The current name was adopted in November 1965 when the airline was completely merged with Air Liban. Although operations were interrupted by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and by the Israeli raid on Beirut Airport in 1968 in-which, the airline lost three Comet 4C’s, two Caravelles, a Boeing 707, the Vickers VC10, and the Vickers Viscount, MEA restarted by acquiring a Convair 990 from American Airlines, which entered service on 24 June 1969.
A Boeing 747-200B entered service in June 1975 on the Beirut – London route, and later on the Beirut-Paris-New York route from April 1983 until mid-1985. MEA had to adjust its operations to the realities of war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1991 and despite multiple closures of the base at Beirut International Airport, was able to continue operating against all odds. Airbus A310-300s were acquired in 1993 and 1994, followed by an A321-200 and the A330-200 (which replaced the A310s). From 1998 to 2002, MEA implemented its largest restructuring program ever which helped to turn it around from a loss-making airline to a profitable one by 2003.
On June 28, 2012, Middle East Airlines joined the Sky Team alliance to become its 17th member and the second in the Middle East.
The airline has introduced self check-in kiosks at Beirut’s international airport as of July 2010. The airline is also planning on launching the Arabesk Airline Alliance with six other Arab carriers. Their future plans include floating about 25% of their shares on the Beirut Stock Exchange (BSE) as part of a long-term plan to fully privatize the airline.
A majority of the airline is owned by the Central Bank of Lebanon, Banque du Liban, (99.50%) and employs around 5,000 staff group-wide (as of February 2009).
MEA offers only two classes of travel on all of its flights: Business Class (which is called Cedar Class) and Economy Class. Neither First Class nor Premium Economy Class are offered.