Brussels Airlines Poised for Growth After Post-Attack Drop in Business

This special Brussels Airlines carrier pays tribute to the famous Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte.

Brussels Airlines was enjoying a year of double-digit growth until business came to an abrupt halt on March 22, when a terrorist attack closed the airport. Last week, journalists participating in a media visit sponsored by Visit Flanders sat down in Brussels Airport with Brussels Airlines' Frederic Dechamps, vice president of sales, Benelux, Europe and Americas; and Geert Sciot, vice president of media relations, to see how the carrier and the destination are recovering.

"We were one of the fastest-growing airlines in Europe, with double-digit growth," said Sciot. "After the attacks on March 22, the airport closed for 13 consecutive days. Obviously our figures were heavily impacted by that." The carrier operated flights out of two regional airports, in Antwerp and Liège. However, Sciot said, "We were able to operate less than 30 percent of our normal services." Some long-haul flights were moved to Frankfurt, Germany, and Zurich, Switzerland. Business began to rebound in April and May. As of June, the airline reported an impressive 4 percent growth for the month, year-over-year. 

During the emergency, noted Duchamps, "we were massively communicating with passengers." By constantly updating flyers via email and text, he said, the airline was able to reroute many out of alternate airports and update them on flight status. 

Operations were back to full capacity by mid-June, noted Sciot, but "there's still a bit of a perception issue from some countries. The U.S. is one of them. Some companies are advising travelers not to travel through Brussels airport. But we don't see the need anymore to have negative travel advice."

Among new safety measures is a two-lane "pre-security" area outside of the airport, as well as random road checks of vehicles entering the premises. The "kiss and go" passenger drop-off area is no longer available, he said, as vehicles can not pull up at the airport. Flyers are dropped off in the parking lot, from where they walk to a pre-security area outside the terminals. 

While the new process adds another step to the check-in process, "the objective is to make this the fastest security check in Europe," said Dechamps. The TSA security area was expanded to 24 lanes a year ago, but typically not all were staffed. Now, he said, all 24 are open. Added Sciot, "We want to offer a Fast Lane to everyone." The target is for passengers to get from parking to gate in 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, the airline has continued its investments and expansion planes, including launching five weekly flights between Brussels and Toronto in April.

Among efforts to bolster business, the airline is working on themed leisure air and land packages, focusing on attractions such as museums, breweries and chocolatiers. Said Dechamps, "We need to inspire people and give them good reasons for visiting Belgium."