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My flight originated from the US on March 10, 2016 on United Airlines and I was expected to have a layover of about 5 hours at Brussels Airport before departing to Liberia on Brussels Airline. At around 9:30am, I had checked the airport display for the departure gate and the flight status read “canceled.”
My colleague and I headed to Brussels Airline service desk where we met a long line of other travelers waiting to be attended to. Some of them had been there since 8am. I inquired from those on the queue the reason for the cancelation and they had heard it was as a result of technical difficulties. Around 11am, Brussels airline personnel came around asking for Non-US and Non-EU passports. He explained that they needed to get transit visas for us so they could take us to hotels. Asides from the little explanation given by the guy, no official communication was given by any Brussels Airline official. Around 12 noon, they started assigning hotels to holders of US and EU passports.
After a while, they started giving the rest of us meal vouchers. At this point, my colleague and I told the airline official that we did not need meal vouchers but an update on the status of our visas and time of departure. He told us that the visas will be ready in the next 2 hours and our departure had been rescheduled to March 12 at 12:15pm. Around 2pm, my colleague went back to ask on the status of our visas and he was told he should come back at 3pm and that we may have to wait until 8pm. I was upset and told the lady at the service desk that we weren’t being treated fairly. She rudely responded and said she couldn’t discuss the issue and continued working.
Around 3:40pm, a security official with Brussels Airlines came to address us and said only 5 people were issued visas – a minor and his mum and 3 other elderly people. At this point, we all became upset and demanded that a manager from the airline addresses us. The security personnel said he couldn’t get a hold of a manager but he can show us where we would sleep. We all decided to go to the immigration desk and on the way we met a European man who after hearing our story went to the Brussels Airline service desk and told them they are obligated to provide us with a hotel and feeding in accordance with the stipulation of EU261/2004.
At a point, the lady walked out on him. People were filming the exchange and the lady hit one of the guys knocking his phone he was using to film the event off his hands. We all decided to head to the immigration desk again and on our way, the police accosted us. Apparently, the lady had called them. We explained what happened and told them we were on our way to immigration. At the immigration desk, the supervisor in charge explained that he received our passports at 2pm and at his discretion, he only issued 5 visas. It was shocking to find out that Brussels Airlines didn’t give the immigration officers our passports until 4 hours later. Interestingly, about 5 police officers stood in a semi-circle while we spoke with the immigration officer. The immigration officer had forewarned us that if we stepped beyond a certain point, he will have no choice but to arrest us. Thankfully, the conversation with the immigration officer was very cordial and he advised us to seek redress from the airline.
As I write this, we have been given camp beds, blankets and pillows in an open space where we are meant to spend the night while the others with US and EU passports are staying in cozy hotels. They have also given us food vouchers worth $38. They haven’t offered to offer compensation for this inconvenience. My layover of 5 hours is now 29 hours. The treatment by Brussel Airlines has been appalling. There was no official communication from Brussels Airlines about the cancellation and no Brussels air personnel have officially addressed those of us that were stranded. Is this happening because it is a flight to an African country?
Brussels air lukewarm attitude and mismanagement of the process needs to stop. Join me demanding for better services by sharing this story and the harsh tag – #?BrusselsAirlineThisHasToStop