ATW Editor's Blog

Post Brussels attacks, some need lesson in decency & decorum


The March 22 terrorist attacks on Brussels Airport and the city’s metro system were sickening. It beggars belief, therefore, to record two events emanating from Brussels in the aftermath of those bombs.

First was the one-day, unannounced strike by Belgian air traffic controllers, which brought flights to a halt at Brussels Airport less than 10 days after the airport restarted services following the deadly attacks.

The air traffic controllers staged a sickout to protest Belgocontrol making changes to employees’ retirement benefits.

Most affected, of course, was the city’s home-based Brussels Airlines, which was the first carrier to begin limited services out of the airport after the attacks and which has lost millions of dollars in revenue since the bombs. Staff at that airline have been doing their duties despite extremely difficult operational and emotional conditions.

As CEO Bernard Gustin put it, “we have done our utmost to bring thousands of Brussels Airlines passengers to their destination … This was, is and will remain our first priority, in addition to the support given to our staff. I thank our customers for their understanding.”

Compare that attitude and selflessness with that of the controllers who stayed at home while others work so hard to rebuild the airport and reconnect Brussels to the world.

In unusually blunt language, IATA DG and CEO Tony Tyler condemned the strike. “It is the height of irresponsibility to cut a vital service and doing so without warning can only be seen as malicious. If we cannot count on simple human decency from such highly compensated professionals, then it’s time for governments to find ways to guarantee the availability of air traffic control services,” he said.

What got less attention, but is equally appalling, was a statement issued by the European Commission’s Mobility & Transport Directorate – or MOVE - the day after the bomb attacks. You can read that statement here, but let me provide the gist.

Essentially, it was a reminder that passengers had the right to “timely information and assistance” from an airline if their flight was cancelled “even in extraordinary circumstances such as the event at Brussels airport.”

It then goes on to detail passenger rights, including “appropriate care free of charge, such as meals, accommodation, and transfer to/from the hotel”.

This tone-deaf politicking was posted as those who work for the affected airlines, like their customers, were still numb with shock and grieving.

Decency and decorum.

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