Brussels Airport is a delight


I remember when Amsterdam Schipol was THE European dream airport of short ways and good shopping but much has changed in recent years, as aircraft now have to often taxi for very long periods of time either from or to the terminal, and connections – when arriving from intercontinental flights and flying on to a European destination – can cause extended walks from one end of the airport to the other, at times resulting in real sprints when connection times are tight.

Not so Brussels, which during a recent visit presented itself as modern but compact enough to raise my interest for more information. On arrival from east Africa, in fact from all long-haul international flights, at the B Pier of the airport, it is a short way supported by walk-on transportation bands to the immigration desks, and thankfully there are enough manned desks to process the steady flow of arriving passengers, including a fast-track bypass for premium-class passengers.

The baggage carousels are not far behind the immigration desks and well marked so as not to miss one’s bags and are only steps away from the customs check points. Once through that last formality, the main arrival hall with shops and bistros is awaiting travelers, while access to the train to the city and the cabs outside are just steps away.

There is even a Sheraton Hotel right across the road from the main terminal entrance, but my experience with how they handled my dayroom booking on arrival was so bad that I would not recommend it, even if the blame for this may ultimately only be apportioned to an obviously tired-out staff member at the very end of his nightshift, but it did rub off on the hotel, of course.
Departures from Brussels for the African destinations are all combined in the dedicated end-part of Pier A, where incidentally all the Schengen-area flights arrive, giving quick access to connections to Africa.

After passing through the check-in procedures, there is plenty of shopping available, but it is advisable to only use the duty-free area after the security check point, as liquids exceeding the mandatory limit will be categorically removed from hand baggage, as I could witness happening with other passengers. Again a fast track lane for premium passengers is available, and entry into that channel is permitted upon scanning the boarding pass.

Duty-free shopping after the check point is very sufficient, and the duty free prices are granted again when the boarding pass shows departures into non-Schengen destinations, as duty free sales for flights within Europe have been abandoned some years ago.

The next stage to the Africa cluster is the outbound passport control, but a word of caution here: there is presently NO shopping possible beyond that point, and while a small sign on the immigration desks warns of this, it is also a point of no return, i.e., once through, one has to stay there and use the duty-free shopping on board the aircraft, incidentally quite varied and with surprisingly affordable prices.

I made inquiries about this anomaly and was told that one of the two bars was already extended to the beyond point, at least offering some drinks and refreshments for passengers in that area, while duty-free shopping facilities would be created probably starting in 2010, as more travelers must have complained about this lack of commercial facilities, which by the way would earn the airport some handsome additional concession fees and royalties for sure.

A fully-fledged, award-winning, premium-class lounge, the Brussels Airlines Sunrise Loung’ at the very end of the Pier A, within meters of the 8 gates from where all the Brussels Airlines flights to Africa depart, then puts the icing on the cake for those flying in the front cabin or holders of Gold and Platinum frequent flyer cards. It is now available for passengers of all Star Alliance partners and also code-shared flight passengers. A separate silent lounge with stretched chairs offers an area to snooze a little – the lounge attendants happily delivery a wake-up call when the flight is ready for boarding – and is supplemented by showers, a huge bonus for travelers for instance connecting from one long-haul flight to the next, and the usual facilities like Internet access, the latest newspapers and magazines, screens featuring the news channels, and a variety of snacks and drinks round up the picture. The windows of the lounge avail a grand view of arriving and departing aircraft, and when it is time to board, all the gates again provide a separate boarding entrance for premium passengers – and generously large facilities for economy-class passengers too – only steps away from the aircraft.

The rebuilding and expansion of Brussels Airport has paid dividends, making it one of the most compact and fastest airports to arrive at, transit through, and leave from in Europe, and it has spare capacity, being built for 25+ million passengers and presently handling less than 19 million. And finally, once all the Africa flights have left for the day, the immigration desk doors in Pier A are opened to provide more gate space for flights within the Schengen area, making best use of these available facilities. Way to go Brussels, always a pleasure traveling to and through.