When video journalist Jeff Beckers of HLN checked in with three friends at Zaventem airport last night for a week-long vacation in Dubrovnik, he wasn’t expecting Brussels Airlines to abandon him after a few hours in the Croatian capital Zagreb, hundreds of kilometers away. Far from the port city on the Adriatic. “Don’t expect this from a Star Alliance airline like Brussels Airlines.”
At 6:15 yesterday evening, Beckers and his friends took off in Brussels. Normally they were supposed to land at 8:10 in Dubrovnik, in the far south of Croatia, but eventually the plane lands just before 9 p.m. in Zagreb, further north. The reason: a large thunderstorm over Dubrovnik, the pilots, after an unsuccessful first attempt to land, decided to divert and return to the Croatian capital. “The pilot stated over the intercom that he was not trained to land in such weather conditions,” Beckers says of the recently announced course change. “I find it incomprehensible that there was an attempt to put the coffin on the ground.”
Once the plane lands safely in Zagreb, the 140 passengers are kept on board for another hour and a half, because “Brussels Airlines will provide the solution,” Beckers says. “But suddenly everyone had to leave the plane, it was already 10:30 in the evening.” Airport staff then inform the group of stranded travelers that they still have to make their own plans. Beckers: “They suggested we take a taxi, but Dubrovnik is at least a six-hour drive from Zagreb!”
Arrange your own hotel
With no contact from Brussels Airlines, Beckers’ travel companion eventually contacted the airport company’s press office, which, like customer service, knows nothing. “Eventually we were told we had to arrange something ourselves, but we could enter the costs,” says Beckers, who will fly to Dubrovnik tomorrow evening with his friends via another airline. A group of friends is forced to spend the first night of his vacation in a hotel in downtown Zagreb. “This costs an additional 600-700 euros for four people in total,” he says, upset. “So the mood among the passengers was very bad: people do not expect such a thing from a Star Alliance airline as Brussels Airlines.”
In response, Brussels Airlines said the pilot made the right choice to divert to Zagreb because “it was not possible to land in Dubrovnik in the dark in this type of storm with strong winds above the speed limit, according to landing procedures.” “Only pilots with precise and specific knowledge of the Dubrovnik runway are allowed to land there in these conditions after dark,” spokeswoman Mike Andres said.
And Andres stresses that Brussels Airlines in Zagreb “unfortunately does not have a local partner” to help stranded travelers, and says there are “no better alternatives” than Zagreb. “Passengers, whose data we had to look up for ourselves, told us about a hotel that we would reimburse for,” Andres concludes.
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