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Reopened departure hall leads to chaos on first day
Brussels Airport re-opened its departures hall yesterday, following the 22 March terrorist attacks. The first full day of operation saw long queues of passengers waiting for more than two hours, and many missed their flights. Brussels Airport has promised an improvement by week’s end.
Among those affected by the long line was former prime minister Yves Leterme. After waiting more than two hours, he missed his flight, but he was diplomatic when speaking to the press. “I’ll take the next one,” he said. “I’ve had bigger problems.”
The queues were due to the new procedure of pre-screening passengers and their bags before allowing entry to the departures hall and check-in. Pre-screening takes place in tents outside the building. “Screening outside protects the building, but not the passengers,” commented one traveller, pointing out that the huge mass of people checking in have simply been moved outside.
“The first day of a major operational change is always going to be difficult,” said Nathalie Van Impe of Brussels Airport. “We will evaluate operations and bring them up to standard, and we are sure that things will get better in the days to come.”
The Belgian Travel Organisation (BTO), meanwhile, warned that passengers – especially business travellers, who make up 40% of those flying out of Brussels – will look for alternatives unless something is done about wait times. “The current security measures are counter-productive,” said BTO chair Jan Van Steen. “A fair compromise has to be found between security and the comfort of passengers. Check-in needs to come back down to under two hours as soon as possible; otherwise, business travellers will opt for foreign airports instead.”
Brussels Airport advises passengers to arrive three hours before their flight time, to check in online and to travel as light as possible. “Anyone who has only hand baggage and has checked in online does not have to line up for the check-in desks at the airport,” said spokesperson Geert Sciot. The airport is now operating at about 80% of capacity, which means 20,000 to 25,000 passengers a day.
Photo: Erick Lalmand/BELGA