Diplomatic lounge at Miami International Airport was Haitian refuge days after devastating earthquake
By Meena Rupani
An expanded, luxury-appointed consular lounge at Miami International Airport opened just in time to handle refugees from the earthquake in Haiti.
"The space housed many children and their families arriving from Haiti and going to their respective cities. It became a sort of ground zero," said Irving Fourcand, director of protocol and international affairs at the airport.
The lounge opened Dec. 11, 2009, just a month before the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
That humanitarian use of the lounge for victims of natural disaster, however, is a far cry from its purpose.
The lounge is meant to be part of a wide-range of protocol services the airport offers. Miami International is the only airport in the nation with specifically dedicated VIP facilities to accommodate foreign dignitaries.
"The idea for the lounge is not a new one. The first consular lounge was designed in 1994 to accommodate heads of state coming in for the first Summit of the Americas," held to further hemispheric cooperation, Mr. Fourcand said. "We expanded the lounge last year to accommodate 120 from the 40 it used to house."
Within the lounge, Mr. Fourcand and his team personally meet and greet the dignitaries and coordinate their arrival and departure. In addition, the lounge offers a variety of foods and teleconferencing services.
Refurbishment cost about $12,000, building upon the existing furnishings and using internal resources to expand the space, he said.
Cities around the nation are attempting to create a similar lounge in their own airports.
"Other cities now want to replicate what we have in our department. The mayor's office in Chicago called me asking for advice," Mr. Fourcand said.
Atlanta has a similar department, he said, but "it is smaller and does not have as many activities. Our department hosts 7,000 activities a year while Atlanta only hosts about a 100."
This year alone, he said, the department has served 337 heads of state, including presidents, other leaders of governments and high-ranking officials from about 100 planeside arrivals and departures.
Mr. Fourcand said of the lounge, "Our consulates just love it. They don't find these amenities and services at any other airport."