“Suitcases travel through the airport faster than passengers”

We love to moan about the baggage handling at an airport. And if our suitcase misses the flight we become downright angry because then our comfort world collapses. But we don’t always know what goes on behind the scenes.

Until a year and a half ago 45-year-old Benny Vervoort was mainly responsible for the baggage processing installation at Belgium’s national airport. Meanwhile his tasks have been extended to include coaching a number of new colleagues and long-term planning, amongst other things.

“To put it simply, I am an important contact at Brussels Airport for everything to do with automated baggage transport. That excludes everything that the handling agents do of course; these days that means two large companies, Swissport & Aviapartner, plus some airline companies that do their handling themselves.”

Baggage system?

Now, in 2014, there are around 16 kilometres of conveyor belts in the belly of Brussels Airport, driven by 5500 motors. More than 60 cameras and 100 PLCs monitor and steer the operation. At departures baggage is put into the system via 180 check-in desks, at arrivals it eventually falls onto 7 different carrousels.

“We can split the baggage system at Brussels Airport into two parts”, explains Benny. “On the one hand the system at the main terminal (opened in 1994) and on the other the one at Pier A, where a brand new system was brought into service in 2012. Here we reach speeds of 26 km/h or, to be precise, your suitcase travels up to 7 metres per second – a good deal faster than you move through the terminal yourself.”

The whole baggage department at BRU is run and monitored by a number of managers, supplemented by about ten duty managers. In addition to them you should count some sixty (technical) employees supplied by subcontractors, who are available 24/7. The majority of the staff work for the handling agents, who employ hundreds of people daily, purely and simply for baggage processing.

Lost or delayed baggage

The baggage department at Brussels Airport runs correctly 98 percent of the time, on an annual basis. “As far as our part of the process is concerned at least”, clarifies Benny. “Once again, the manual processing by the handling agent will determine the end quality.”

“…It’s the handling agent, not the airport that’s responsible for checking-in, loading, unloading and delivering hold baggage…”

One of the difficulties that affect passengers directly is what people generally call ‘lost baggage’, although in reality it is usually ‘delayed baggage’. “A suitcase that doesn’t arrive at the same time as you do has missed the plane for all sorts of possible reasons and will be sent on asap afterwards. If you immediately file a clear report, at least”, says Benny. 

So how many suitcases are we talking about?

“On an ordinary day 30,000 suitcases fly in and out of here”, says Benny. “On peak days during the summer months it can easily be double that.” If it goes wrong (i.e. a conveyor belt breaks down) the system is constructed so that other loops take over. “It’s only when there’s a snowball effect and a number of systems break down through saturation that we have real problems”, says Benny. “A sort of Murphy’s law that can lead in the end to a crash, a horrible word that means that we grind to a halt. A crash is very, very exceptional and the speed of the solution depends very much on the moment. If it’s early in the morning on a busy July day it can make us nervous”, he laughs.

So where can things go wrong?

Airline baggage processing intrinsically follows a simple system. Your suitcase gets a barcode label; the computer throws it into the right airplane. So where can things go wrong? “To be honest, sometimes the passenger is also partly responsible”, says Benny. “Look how many travellers leave their old labels on their cases? Especially the reserve labels, the little sticky ones here and there are often the reason why the baggage transfer doesn’t go smoothly. It’s simple, every barcode is loaded with information. When a computer scans an old one, there’s a hitch. The same for creased labels. All this baggage is separated immediately and dealt with by hand. Not so terrible in itself, but it is time-consuming. About 10 percent of all suitcases suffer from this, even 15 percent of international transfer baggage.

Size is another problem. Anything that is not standard is a risk. So crutches, golf clubs, umbrellas, etc., they all have to be processed manually.” They can cause a tear in a conveyor belt and possibly a breakdown. “It wouldn’t be the first time in the world an umbrella brought an airport to a standstill”, laughs Benny. This manager is not a fan of the newest generation of suitcases with four thin wheels, one on each corner, either. “Handy for the customers but a disadvantage for us”, he says. Neither is Benny keen on sealing suitcases by wrapping them in strong adhesive plastic. “It turns your suitcase into an overly mobile ball, makes a good shape a bad one. I often say: anything that can roll causes problems. The ideal suitcase is a rectangular box, preferably without little wheels sticking out and straps trailing.” That’s why we try to dispatch all bags with straps and cardboard boxes etc. in plastic crates, it avoids possible problems.

Tips for those who fly

  • choose the most rectangular model of suitcase you can find
  • remove all the labels (including non-airline ones)
  • make sure your home address is clearly marked on it 
  • don’t challenge the system by ignoring the minimum check-in time
  • if your baggage is damaged, delayed or lost: immediately file a clear report with your handler or airline.

We can - we want to - do a lot, but we can’t work magic.  

(article originally published in Dutch in Travel etc.)

Our passengers of the day are Nele and Filip from Geraardsbergen (you know, the Belgian town famous because of its ‘mattentaarten’ and - for cycle fanatics - the cobblestone hill ‘De Muur’). Last week, this couple woke early in the morning to take off with Thomas Cook Airlines for a well-deserved vacation on the Greek island Corfu. One sunny week, a bit of chillin’ and several cocktails later, having experienced several day trips on the island and a boat trip to the wild beauty of Albania, they conclude this was just what they needed to relax and forget the day-to-day hustle and bustle in Belgium. High-res

Our passengers of the day are Nele and Filip from Geraardsbergen (you know, the Belgian town famous because of its ‘mattentaarten’ and - for cycle fanatics - the cobblestone hill ‘De Muur’). Last week, this couple woke early in the morning to take off with Thomas Cook Airlines for a well-deserved vacation on the Greek island Corfu. One sunny week, a bit of chillin’ and several cocktails later, having experienced several day trips on the island and a boat trip to the wild beauty of Albania, they conclude this was just what they needed to relax and forget the day-to-day hustle and bustle in Belgium.

A tale of giant eggs, chocolate eggs and talking planes

This Easter period we’ve installed a giant egg in the departures hall. During the first two weekends of the Easter holidays, we had an artist decorate the upper part of the egg. Kids were invited to go loose on the lower part. It made for this beautiful egg picture series.

But that was not all. Make-up artists needed no more than a few minutes to turn our smaller passengers into bold warriors or cute little princesses. Unless they preferred glitter tattoos.

We also distributed 30,000 chocolate Easter eggs, 10,000 colouring pictures, and 5,000 colouring pencils. You’re right, that does smell like a colouring contest. And a nice one at that, because your kids can win tickets for the exclusive pre premiere of the Disney movie Planes 2: Fire & Rescue at the airport. The airport? Yes, we’ll be installing a special pop-up cinema this summer to stage the movie. Seems like we have some stuff to look forward to.

On behalf of all of the Brussels Airport staff: we wish you a happy Easter and happy holidays!

Since the beginning of this week, our flight information displays - aka these screens with flights on it- have a new layout.We believe the new layout is orderly, with bigger letters and a light background so you can read all info more easily. But most of all, we’re interested in your opinion. So go ahead and judge for yourselves: what do you think of this new layout?
In case of doubt: old layout left, new layout right. High-res

Since the beginning of this week, our flight information displays - aka these screens with flights on it- have a new layout.

We believe the new layout is orderly, with bigger letters and a light background so you can read all info more easily. But most of all, we’re interested in your opinion. So go ahead and judge for yourselves: what do you think of this new layout?

In case of doubt: old layout left, new layout right.

A big week of inaugurals

This week, we have an explosion of new routes. How about easyJet, starting new routes to Bordeaux, London Gatwick and Naples? Or Brussels Airlines, adding two fantastic holiday destinations: Athens and Seville. Not to mention Jetairfly, taking off to Tel Aviv, and, icing on the cake: American beach paradise Miami? And in the opposite direction: Eurolot starting direct flights to Wroclaw.

Wow. A lot of splendid destinations, but which one to start with? Vineyard covered resplendent Bordeaux, with its sand brick houses? The cosy alleyways of Naples with a side trip to Pompei or Amalfi? Underground hipster London? Sumptuous baroque Seville with its excellent tapas and vibrant street life? Culture hotbed Athens? Party capital Tel Aviv? Happy-go-lucky beach life in Miami? Or let’s take Wroclaw. Ever been there? It’s a neat city with colourful houses, cobblestones and hidden gnomes. All Polish cosiness. And surprisingly good food, if you do a bit of research.

Anyway, if you don’t find anything to your liking in the above, or if you prefer images to words, go ahead and browse all our direct destinations on our Pinterest boards. We’re pretty sure you’ll find just what you’re after.

Sven, Tarir-Mehamed, Sabrina and Jahjouh-Dali work in one of our Brussels Airport bars run by Autogrill, such as Bar Rouge or Belgian Beer Café in Pier A. Next Tuesday 1st of April is a big day for them, because they’ll defend the Brussels Airport honour in the Belgian preselection of the Stella Artois World Draught Masters Championship. Why they participate? “Everywhere in the world, people have the right to drink a perfectly draught Stella Artois”, Sven explains. “Serving a good Stella Artois is just part of the job”, Tarir-Mehamed knows, while Sabrina participates because she wants to perfect her work and she also likes the technical challenge. Jahjouh-Dali wants to learn new things.So, next time you drink your Stella Artois at the airport, you should consider yourself lucky to be served by these people. They are making sure you have a quality beer served with a smile and pride.If you want to see them in full action during the preselections the 1st of April, just drop by in the Stella Artois pop-up bar next to check-in row 11. We wish them all the best for the contest and we hope to see them in the finals! High-res

Sven, Tarir-Mehamed, Sabrina and Jahjouh-Dali work in one of our Brussels Airport bars run by Autogrill, such as Bar Rouge or Belgian Beer Café in Pier A. Next Tuesday 1st of April is a big day for them, because they’ll defend the Brussels Airport honour in the Belgian preselection of the Stella Artois World Draught Masters Championship.

Why they participate? “Everywhere in the world, people have the right to drink a perfectly draught Stella Artois”, Sven explains. “Serving a good Stella Artois is just part of the job”, Tarir-Mehamed knows, while Sabrina participates because she wants to perfect her work and she also likes the technical challenge. Jahjouh-Dali wants to learn new things.

So, next time you drink your Stella Artois at the airport, you should consider yourself lucky to be served by these people. They are making sure you have a quality beer served with a smile and pride.

If you want to see them in full action during the preselections the 1st of April, just drop by in the Stella Artois pop-up bar next to check-in row 11. We wish them all the best for the contest and we hope to see them in the finals!