Brussels Airport partially reopens, hopes to be back to full capacity by July

BRUSSELS – It was an emotional send-off on Sunday for a Brussels Airlines plane departing for the Portuguese city of Faro, the first passenger flight to take off from Brussels Airport since suicide bombings on March 22 ripped through its check-in counters and killed 16 people.

Two other Brussels Airlines planes departed shortly after – one to Athens and the other to Turin, Italy – signifying a test run for the aviation hub that used to handle 600 flights a day. The airport, which served 1.5 million passengers in February, had been shut down for 12 days following the bombing attack.

At a recent news conference, Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Co., thanked employees for their courage, solidarity and the “impressive work carried out in so little time.”

“We are more than an airport, we are a family more bound together than ever,” he said. “It will take time to accept what happened and more time to get over the pain. But we will never forget.”

New security measures have since been implemented at the airport in an effort to minimize the chances of any repeat attacks. Police on Sunday conducted spot checks of vehicles before they arrived, while a large tent was set up outside the terminal to screen travellers’ IDs, travel documents and bags before they were allowed to enter a specially built area for check-in.

A drop-off parking area outside the terminal was closed down and authorities said there would be no rail or public transport access to the airport for the foreseeable future.

According to Feist, the airport is hoping to get back up to full capacity by the end of June or beginning of July. Over the next few days, the airport would gradually climb to 20% of capacity, processing 800 passengers an hour (the maximum capacity for the temporary structures).

However, traffic may take time to return to its previous pace. Several airlines have announced suspended service and/or the waiving of change fees, including:

  • British Airways has said it won’t fly to Brussels until Tuesday at the earliest.
  • Delta Airlines said over the weekend that it was suspending service between Atlanta and Brussels until March 2017, and suggests passengers reroute to or through Paris, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf or Luxembourg. Passengers with Brussels tickets through April 18 can rebook with no penalty – although the fare could be higher – if they begin their rescheduled travel by April 30. Alternatively, they can cancel their reservation and apply the ticket’s value toward a new ticket for one year, according to Delta’s website.
  • United says it will waive change fees and any difference in fare for passengers who reschedule a Brussels flight through April 30 if the new trip follows the same route or goes to or from London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf or Luxembourg. For trips after April 30 and within a year of the ticket’s purchase, United says it will waive change fees but the fare could increase.
  • American has cancelled its Brussels flights through April 15. It is waiving change fees for Brussels trips that were bought before March 29 and scheduled to fly through April 22 on American, British Airways or Iberia. Passengers can rebook to or through several other European cities _ London’s two main airports, Paris’ two main airports, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, and Liege Bierset, Belgium _ with no change fee. In some cases, American says it will waive any change in fare as long as the passenger flies in the same class of seat covered by the original ticket.
  • Air France says that passengers who bought tickets to Brussels before March 23 for travel through April 18 can get a refund or rebook their trip through April 18. Rebooked travel must be completed no later than April 30.
  • British Airways passengers booked for Brussels flights through April 9 can claim a refund, rebook a later date at no extra charge, or pick another destination. The airline says it will operate flights to and from Liege, Belgium, through Monday.
  • Lufthansa has cancelled flights to and from Brussels until at least Wednesday and is offering passengers flights from Munich and Frankfurt to Liege instead. It has a shuttle service between Frankfurt and Brussels. Passengers whose Brussels flights on Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Germanwings or Eurowings have not been cancelled can rebook in the same class for travel before Oct. 31.
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