A luggage strap that came loose instead of staying wrapped around a suitcase was to blame for Saturday’s breakdown of the luggage handling system at Brussels Airport which saw flights delayed and thousands of passengers leaving on holiday without their bags, the airport said.
The breakdown was the third in a matter of weeks, and happened to coincide with the busiest day on the airport’s calendar, with some 83,000 passengers expected to pass through the airport on a single day.
The breakdown meant that the automated system was unable to direct bags from the check-in desk to their assigned flight. The first problems were detected around 0600. Between then and the rebooting of the system at around 0900 about 30 flights took off without luggage.
Once the system was back up and running, it was faced with a backlog of luggage that had to be assigned manually, which led to flight delays up to around noon, with remaining problems finally resolved around 1500, according to the airport authorities.
The airport is now left with between 4,000 and 6,000 pieces of luggage which have to be reunited with their owners. In a message posted on its website, the airport is now offering passengers who had to depart without luggage a “Sorry-voucher” worth 50 euros.
“Sorry,” the message reads. “We couldn’t meet your expectations on Saturday 13 July 2019 or 13 August 2019. Because of an exceptional problem, our luggage system was not functioning the way it should. We would like to apologise for the inconvenience and offer you a Sorry-voucher worth €50, that can be used during your next visit to Brussels Airport.”
The voucher has to be applied for online. Accepting the voucher, which can only be used at Brussels Airport itself, has no effect on passengers’ right to compensation. According to an EU website: “If your checked-in luggage is lost, damaged or delayed, the airline is liable and you’re entitled to compensation up to an amount of approximately EUR 1 300.” The EU advises complaining to the airline in the first instance.
One exception to the generalised chaos appears to be tour operator TUI, who drafted in 15 additional members of staff to do nothing but handle baggage manually, so that all TUI flights departed with a full load.
Meanwhile an expert issued a warning. “If the problems with the baggage system are not thoroughly addressed, the airport at Zaventem could suffer severe damage to its image,” Eddy Van de Voorde, a transport economist with the university of Antwerp, told Het Nieuwsblad.