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Belgium – Day 4

The trip ended well, except for a rainy last day. Which was okay, because we came prepared for wet weather. Our last morning was a musical one. We saw an exhibition on the life of Eugene Ysaye at the Royal Library, then visited the Musical Instruments Museum (MIM), which was intriguing. There’s a lot to see (for a mere 5 euros), so keep some time aside for it if you want to do it justice.

We headed back to the airport for our 20:45 BA flight to Heathrow. We reached Brussels airport at the stipulated two hours before departure only to find the flight delayed to 22:00. We checked in and were offered complimentary drink coupons to keep us occupied. After wandering around the airport (no change on the screens), we decided to try Duty Free and got through Passport Control. Duty Free was the same old, boring and semi-expensive. We had our drinks and read our paper. I checked the screens frequently; no change. It was going to be a long night, but at least the flight wasn’t delayed any further.

At about 8 pm, I checked the screen again. This time, next to our flight number was the word ‘Afgelast’ in Dutch. Not knowing the language, we grabbed the nearest waiter and asked him. His translation : Cancelled.

In a panic, we looked around for someone to help us. Except for shop assistants, there was no one else. On one side was Passport Control, the other side Security.

The Duty Free area by that time was rapidly emptying as the last flights of the night were boarding. Soon, the airport would close for the night. In the absence of any announcements or instructions, what were we to do?

We headed back to Passport Control and explained our situation to the Police there. They asked us to go back to the Airline, which meant leaving the airport and re-entering it again through Departures. Our passports were already stamped and the stamp had to be cancelled. It was very stressful.

The clock was ticking by then. We made our way out, then in again. Found the BA staff sitting around chatting unconcerned. We were directed to ticketing who said they had made announcements (no true, as you will see) and all other passengers of the flight had been put on another airline. We were offered two seats on the last BMI flight to Heathrow. In the meantime, our bags were heading to the now cancelled BA flight. This had to be traced and redirected to the BMI plane.

We caught the BMI flight with a few minutes to spare. Our bag got on as well, thankfully. The flight landed at Tml 1; we were supposed to be at Tml 5. Our car parking attendant had to be told of the change and pick us up at Tml 1 instead of 5.

My question:
– Why weren’t the BA ground staff concerned about missing passengers? We had checked in, got our boarding passes etc so we were on the system. Shouldn’t they have been worried if we had not reported to them (if announcements were made)?

I believe that at the time of checking in, the staff didn’t know that the flight was cancelled. We were checked in as normal assuming a delayed flight. Everybody else, who came in late, were told of the cancellation and put on a replacement flight. They forgot about the early birds.

Moral of the story: If you check in early and learn that the flight is delayed, hang around for a while. You’re safer if you’re outside. Especially in Europe, where airports close for the night and you have to go back to the city (similar experiences in Granada). The sheer lack of airline personnel in all areas of the airport means that you have to deal with the police or other security staff, not all of whom speak English.

And if you’re going to Belgium, carry a Dutch/French dictionary.

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