The last 24 hours preceding my departure date - May 28th - were very stressful. Not only because my Corfu trip was to be the first solo one in 30 years, but also - and mainly - because of what had happened on May 27th.
Between 9 and 10 a.m. on that particular day Belgocontrol, the air traffic control service, was paralyzed by a gigantic power cut, due to an incident with the back up generator. All computers stopped working and planes could no longer take off or land. Arriving planes were re-directed to nearby airports in Holland, Germany and France. Outbound planes remained grounded.
It took hours to get the systems operational again and by noon 25,000 people were stranded at Brussels airport. By 4 p.m. the problem was partly solved and the airport regained 25% of it original capacity. Many flights, however, were cancelled or delayed. The airport authorities announced that the incident would also have an impact on next day's flights, with probably more delays and cancellations. Just my luck!
Worried I called my tour operator, travel agent and airline company, asking whether Thursday's Corfu flight was still scheduled. Despite the fact that they couldn't give me a definite answer, they advised me to go to the airport the next morning as planned. They also told me to check the airport's Facebook page where regular updates would be published.
I spent a fitful night, wondering where I would be sleeping the next night: in my own bed or in a nice hotel room with bay view. I got up at 3 a.m., finished packing my suitcase and waited for the taxi which was to pick me up at 4.15 a.m. On the radio I heard that by then the airport had regained 75% of its capacity, with still some delays and cancellations. I checked the internet, but found no extra information regarding my flight.
The taxi arrived at 4 a.m. Fifteen minutes later the driver cleverly avoided the long queue of cars that was heading for the kiss-and-ride zone at 'departures' and drove me to 'arrivals', where he put my suitcase in an elevator that took me up to the departure hall, thus avoiding a long wait.
I knew that airports can be very busy that early in the morning when most of the charter flights to popular holiday destinations take off. However, I didn't expect to find this:
Part of the departure hall was occupied by some 200 camp beds that had been set up by the Red Cross to accommodate the stranded passengers. They had spent the night at the airport and some of them were just getting up when I arrived. They looked exhausted and completely lost. I took this photo discretely from behind a pillar, because I didn't want to offend or upset these poor people.
I made my way to the Thomas Cook information desk, where I received a newspaper and a plastic carrier bag containing a magazine, a cross-words booklet and two small boxes of candy. The young man behind the desk confirmed that my flight was still scheduled at 6.55 a.m. So far, so good.
Next, I checked in my luggage. I already had my boarding pass as I had checked myself in via the internet two weeks earlier. As I was travelling 'Premium' I had a seat in the front row of the plane, D1 - with extra leg space and extra service (more about that later). With my hand luggage and precious boarding pass in hand I started out on my long walk to Gate A64, which is located at the far end of what seems like an endless corridor.
Suddenly I heard someone calling my name "Hey Martine!" ... I turned around and looked straight into the smiling face of ...