Belgian Air, Train Travel Hobbled After Bombings in Brussels

Brussels Attacks Prompt European Security Changes
  • Flights to Brussels diverted to Amsterdam, Dusseldorf
  • Rail stations reopen after closure following morning attacks

Flights and train services in and out of Brussels were canceled and security precautions at travel hubs around Europe were stepped up after deadly bombings in the Belgian capital’s airport and subway system.

Operations have been suspended through at least Tuesday at the airport, which was evacuated after the morning explosions, according to the hub’s Twitter feed. Arriving air traffic was redirected to other cities, including Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Charleroi in Belgium, according to airlines. The metro, trams and bus lines in Brussels were shut. Rail stations in the city, which had been closed for most of the day, reopened in the afternoon in an effort to return to normalcy.

Twitter: Brussels Airport on Twitter

Passengers are evacuated from Brussels airport on March 22.
Passengers are evacuated from Brussels airport on March 22.
Photographer: Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

The high-speed Thalys train, which runs between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, canceled service to the Belgian capital, as did the Eurostar line serving Paris, London and Brussels, according to Twitter feeds from the rail services. Deutsche Bahn trains between Frankfurt and Brussels are beginning and ending at the German city of Aachen until further notice, the rail operator said on its website.

One train on Thalys’s Paris-Brussels service -- the scene of an attempted attack in August -- was diverted to the French city of Lille, according to a Bloomberg News reporter on board. Alain Vandenbrande, who runs a 120-employee company that performs cleaning services at Brussels Airport, aborted his trip to Paris Tuesday morning after learning of the attacks.

“It’s harrowing,” he said in an interview on the Thalys train that was diverted to Lille, on the Belgian border. “The pictures are awful. My employees? Apparently some are injured but I don’t have full details. Many have been evacuated and are in a state of shock. The question now is how to get back to Belgium.”

Shares Drop

The blasts add to the woes of the travel industry in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which already has seen tourism drop after two terrorism attacks in Paris last year, the destruction of a Russian airliner in Egypt, bombings in Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey, and a deadly assault on tourists on a Tunisian beach.

Map of Brussels
Map of Brussels
Bloomberg

“This is going to have a ripple effect,” said Mark Martin, a Dubai-based consultant to the airline industry. With fares affordable and the summer booking season in full swing, “this was going to be a time for airlines to make revenue. This is the last thing they need now.”

Shares of European airlines and travel companies slumped. Tour operator Thomas Cook Group Plc tumbled 5.8 percent and hotel company Accor SA lost 4.7 percent. Ryanair Holdings Plc dropped 2.5 percent, Air France-KLM Group declined 3.7 percent and International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, the parent of British Airways and Iberia, lost 2.4 percent.

Nearly 23.5 million passengers traveled through Brussels Airport last year. The hub is served by 77 airlines that fly to 226 destinations around the world, according to its website. 

Tightened Security

Security has been reinforced at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports and delays are expected, Aeroports de Paris, which operates the hubs, said in a statement. Controls have been at the highest level since the November terrorist attacks in Paris, but now more border police are patrolling the public areas of the terminals, before passenger check-in, according to an airport employee. Riot police also are patrolling those areas after Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, the employee said.

Identity and ticket checks will be introduced at the entrances to stations and airports, France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in televised comments. Germany’s federal border police stepped up control measures at the frontier with Belgium, and also at rail stations and airports, said Frank Borchert, a police spokesman. Meanwhile, New York City’s subway and other transportation systems remain on high alert, said Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the Department of Transportation.

By the afternoon, some travel services in Belgium were restarting. National rail operator SNCB reopened stations in the Belgian capital at 4 p.m. local time, the country’s Mobility Minister Jacqueline Galant said. Eurostar was seeking to reinstate some service in the afternoon and evening and be back to normal operations on the Brussels route by Wednesday, the railway said on Twitter.

“The cold reality of this is people do tend to forget quite quickly,” said Rob Byde, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald. “It’ll be a temporary dip in demand, but to me, it’s more about the long-term costs of increased security.”