The closure of Brussels’ Zaventem Airport, today entering its ninth day, could not have come at a worse time, for the airport itself and for all the airlines normally operating from there.
The busy Easter holiday season saw many travelers cancel their travel plans altogether while others had to use a range of alternate airports in order to fly out of or into Belgium.
Hardest hit among the dozens of airlines normally frequenting Zaventem was no doubt Brussels Airlines, the home carrier of Belgium.
European departures and arrivals were within the space of two days shifted to both Liege and Antwerp while international flights to and from Africa and to and from North America, were using both Frankfurt and Zurich. In both airports, Brussels Airlines received the support of Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and Swiss, keeping passenger inconvenience to a minimum.
Still, for Brussels Airlines the airport closure could not have come at a worse time. Ready to resume flights during the summer schedule to Washington, DC, the airline was also set to increase the number of flights to Entebbe and Kigali from the present four to five per week. In addition, the airline was launching Toronto, following the withdrawal of the code-shared flight by India’s Jet Airways. The inaugural flight to Brussels Airlines’ first ever Canadian destination has been postponed until April 2, by which time operations out of Zaventem should have fully resumed.
Only days prior to the attack on the airport, information emerged that Brussels Airlines had accomplished a financial turnaround and posted a 41.3-million-euro profit for last year, setting it on a sound growth path. Additional Airbus A330 long-haul aircraft were joining the fleet, and the ageing AVRO 85 and AVRO 100 fleet was to be gradually retired as new and larger Airbus A319/320s were to be brought online as replacements.
At the same time, it was confirmed that Lufthansa, already holding a 45 percent stake in Brussels Airlines, was mulling over a decision due to be taken by April, of acquiring the remaining shares.
All airlines operating into and out of Zaventem, as a result of the closure, took financial hits due to loss of revenue or added cost incurred to rebook and reschedule their passengers. Brussels Airlines though, using Zaventem as their hub airport, is expected to suffer the most from the events of last Tuesday and the subsequent closure of the airport due to the sheer number of flights they operate from there.
The short/medium-haul fleet was last week already transferred to both Liege and Antwerp to serve European destinations but at a price, which, together with the need to operate long-haul flights out of Frankfurt and Zurich, could run into as much as several million euro a day, made up of revenue losses and added operational costs.
The airline though has clearly put their passengers’ interests and convenience first and appears ready to absorb financial pain in order to maintain its market standing as Europe’s largest carrier to Africa and main connector to the European capital from across the EU and other non-EU European countries.
It remains to be seen if the Belgian government will help absorb such operational losses and reimburse Brussels Airlines under a deal which given such exceptional circumstances may get the nod of the EU. Precedent has been set for such action following the post 9/11 bailout of airlines by the US government, and it is only fair that Belgium and the EU consider doing the same for Brussels Airlines and other carriers affected by the Zaventem closure.
Brussels Airport had in the meantime opened a dedicated website where up-to-date information is posted, which can be accessed via brusselsairport2203.be/en/
The airline continues to provide updates on flight departures, arrivals, and locations via brusselsairlines.com/en-be/misc/AlertMessageDetail.aspx
Meanwhile, dozens of Brussels Airlines staff have volunteered to support their colleagues in the social media department to help answer the flood of questions and queries, a remarkable effort which speaks volumes for the attitude of the airline’s staff and their willingness and readiness to chip in and help overcome the challenges of the past 9 days.
In contrast, oneWorld founder member American Airlines has pulled all flights from Philadelphia to Brussels until at least April 7, a move widely seen in Belgium as sending the wrong signal to the perpetrators of the airport attack last Tuesday and considered unhelpful under the circumstances.