Travel Headaches

Travel Headaches

Brussels Airlines and Brussels Airport

On our trip earlier this month to celebrate our anniversary in Lithuania, we lost a day due to what seems the incompetency of Brussels Airline and their partner FLYBE.

We were on the receiving end of a catalogue of avoidable errors causing a delayed outward flight from Birmingham to Brussels. This meant a missed connection on the only flight to Vilnius that day and arriving in the early hours, 8 hours late.

At the otherwise fantastic Birmingham Airport, we had:

  • a 20 minute wait on the bus to our aircraft with no notification of the cause of delay;
  • Then 25/30 minute delay on the aircraft as the ground and aircraft crew miscounted the number of passengers on the plane. The ground staff as well as aircraft crew must have counted and recounted six times. How many times and how many members of staff does counting the same number of people actually take?

On the plane we were given an express connection card and told to find a member of staff who would be happy to help on arrival. I also overheard the passengers in front being told that planes will always wait 10 minutes for any connecting passengers.

However, our magical express connection card counted for nothing on arrival into Brussels:

  • there was no one available to help us at any point
  • we had to go through security again
  • there was just one conveyer belt open
  • the staff were forcing the non-express passengers into the already long line of those with express connections. Thankfully there was a British gent heading up that queue who refused to get in front of us and held everyone back explaining to staff the express-connections should have priority.
  • Our boarding cards were checked and I was told 'we're fine', which I took to mean we were OK to catch our flight. At this point we had about 10 minutes.

So we kept on running, even after the passport control with no sense of urgency took our express connections cards from us saying 'they were no use now'.

There was poor attitude and rudeness at every turn. No one showed any interest in helping customers with express connection cards. This is supposed to be an international airline and an airport at the centre of the EU but we saw no care, professionalism or empathy. Sorry would have gone a long way.

We had a faint apology from the customer care desk as they booked us into new flights, gave us 15 to eat at one of the most expensive European airports and told us we would arrive at 23.45. So we miss an evening but we would arrive before midnight and could at least welcome our anniversary day in Lithuania.

No. We arrived at 1.15 and completely missed this moment. He never gave us the local time.

Thankfully we were reconnected on Lufthansa but via Frankfurt so 3 flights when two would have done. Unsurprisingly, when we landed at Frankfurt there were many Lufthansa staff to help us connect. But we had hours to spare then.

Pain in the neck

To make matters worth, the short Brussels Airlines flight to Brussels was freezing due to the aggressive air conditioning. I got off the plane with a neck and shoulder ache, not helped by then running across the airport. I was dressed for the 26c in Vilnius (which we never got to experience for the rest of the trip) but wrapped my jacket over my summer dress. I didn't notice but the waiting around on the cold bus followed by the waiting on the freezing plane clearly had an effect. By the time I got to my hotel bed around 2am, I had a terrible back ache too. When I woke in the morning, my head was aching, my neck was stiff, I couldn't take a deep breath (to relax) and it hurt to swallow water.

I did as much stretching as I could, had a hot bath (thankful we'd picked a luxurious hotel for our anniversary break) and managed to get down for breakfast. Walking about was the best thing I could do and by the second day, I'd spent a small fortune at the pharmacy and another at a fantastic hotel-recommended Thai masseuse which got me moving a bit more. It did mean me having to sleep on the floor on my own for my romantic break but that way I slept through and didn't wake up with a chronic headache. So far, I've paid for two visits to the local physio back in the UK and counting to get me back to full mobility. The cost of this, the most terrible travel experience is still mounting.

Meanwhile, Brussels Airlines say it will take 8 weeks to respond to our email asking for an explanation. One week for every hour we were seemingly unnecessarily delayed.

I've written about being put off short-haul travel before and now we have two more airlines we'll be reluctant to travel with and one airport we won't be connecting through again.

Customer service: why get it wrong when it's so easy to get it right?

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