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Terror, Trains, Hijacking -- and Snow
The Paris terror attacks last November were perpetrated by Islamic radicals working out of and hiding in Brussels. When the supposed ringleader was finally arrested on Friday, March 18, his terror cell responded by attacking Brussels Zaventem Airport and the Brussels Metro system on Tuesday, March 22. Then, bizarrely, a freak snowstorm shut down Denver International on Wednesday. In the following days, there was a bizarre hijacking and then a fatal train accident just south of Philadelphia. It's been weeks of chaos, calamity and constant confusion. Here's how we're covering events. As usual, the latest item is on top, so read up from the bottom for context.
4/3/16, 1PM ET, SUNDAY
AMTRAK RESTORES SERVICE ON PARTS OF NORTHEAST CORRIDOR
Amtrak operations north of Philadelphia, including Keystone Service trains, have resumed. No matter that Amtrak's Twitter feed, @AmtrakNEC, hasn't been updated for four hours and still says New York-Philadelphia trains are still down. Amtrak operations between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, are down indefinitely. This is the immediate result of the Amtrak Palmetto (Train 89) colliding this morning with a backhoe in Chester, Pennsylvania. It turns out the backhoe belongs to Amtrak and employees were doing track work when the train plowed into the backhoe. Two Amtrak employees were killed. The lead engine on the Palmetto derailed and 30 were injured on the train, which Amtrak says carried 341 passengers and seven crew members. To make matters worse, high winds in the Northeast Corridor today are causing delays and cancellations from New York to Washington. That includes Shuttle flights linking the New York and Washington Metro areas.
4/3/16, 9:45AM ET, SUNDAY
TWO KILLED IN AMTRAK CRASH SOUTH OF PHILADELPHIA
Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia is currently suspended. The news is bad. The Palmetto (Train 89) headed for Savannah, Georgia, left New York/Penn as normal early this morning. But around 8am, it hit a backhoe on the tracks in Chester, Pennsylvania, south of Philadelphia. Local media (http://6abc.com/news/2-dead-in-amtrak-train-accident-in-chester;-service-suspended/1274225/) are reporting two people are dead after the lead engine derailed. Details are still fragmentary. Here's Amtrak's rather sketchy update: http://blog.amtrak.com/2016/04/update-palmetto-train-89/
4/2/16, 6PM ET, SATURDAY
BRUSSELS AIRPORT WILL REOPEN SUNDAY EVENING
Brussels Zaventem Airport will reopen tomorrow evening local time with three "symbolic" flights. Or so promise airport officials. There'll be a jury-rigged system to get departing passengers from a temporary entrance through to the check-in area and security. As you recall, it was the check-in area that was bombed on March 22. The current information from Brussels Airport authorities is here: http://www.brusselsairport.be/en/mediaroom/news/71315/
4/2/16, 2PM ET, SATURDAY
DELTA DUMPS ATLANTA-BRUSSELS ROUTE FOR AT LEAST A YEAR
Delta Air Lines has dropped (it says "suspended") its Atlanta-Brussels nonstop for at least a year. The New York/JFK flights remain on the schedule and presumably will return when Zaventem clears Delta to resume flying. For the moment, however, Delta says JFK-BRU service will be cancelled through April 7. Travelers who wish to change flights they booked until April 18 are free to do so without penalty, Delta says.
4/1/16, 8:15AM ET, FRIDAY
BRUSSELS POLICE STRIKE TO STOP ZAVENTEM REOPENING
Is it safe to reopen Brussels Zaventem Airport? Apparently not, claim unions representing Brussels police. So they've gone on strike, scuttling a plan to partially reopen the airport tonight.
Late Thursday local time, Zaventem authorities said the airport had been jury-rigged to allow a partial reopening tonight with temporary facilities. But before that plan even got off the ground, the police unions announced that they didn't think the airport authorities had put in enough safety measures. Union bosses also claimed the airport workforce is riddled with ISIS operators.
It's hard to tell who's "right" here. One thing I will say: What the police unions want to enhance safety--more controlled access to the check-in hall--is guaranteed to add more unprotected lines and more unvetted crowds in public spaces. And as I explained last week, that only adds more danger and more "soft" targets.
By the way, even when the airport does reopen, it'll be a fractional affair. Airport authorities say the temporary setup could handle 800 departing passengers an hour. That's just 20 percent of Zaventem's pre-attack capacity. In other words, smart travelers will continue to avoid Zaventem and use alternate ways to get to Brussels.
4/1/16, 5:15AM ET, FRIDAY
TRAVEL WAIVER UPDATE: THE GOOD, THE STRICT AND THE AWFUL
U.S. and Canadian carriers serving Brussels are taking divergent paths on travel waivers if you've booked flights into Zaventem.
+ Air Canada continues to dole out the waivers in dribbles. Right now, it's only doing so for flights booked until April 7 and only for service into Brussels. See here: http://www.aircanada.com/en/news/160322.html
+ American Airlines is currently the most liberal. It'll allow changes to Brussels flights--as well as flights into France, the Netherlands and Britain--if you're booked to travel before April 22. See here: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp
+ Delta Air Lines is (surprise!) more restrictive. It's only covering flights until April 18 and only if you're booked into Brussels Zaventem. See here: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/brussels-airport.html
+ United Air Lines, surprising no one, is now aligned with Delta. Although, in fairness, this time United seemed to put its policy out earliest (see below). See here: https://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx#ExceptionPolicies
If you're holding tickets to Brussels in the next several weeks and your airline isn't waiving the rules, hold on. Zaventem is days, perhaps weeks, away from resuming full service. Cancellations will be rife. My advice: Book something else, then wait for your airline to cancel your Brussels flight and claim your refund.
3/29/16, 1:15PM ET, TUESDAY
CHILLING PHOTOS OF ZAVENTEM'S DEVASTATED CHECK-IN HALL
If you've been wondering why Brussels Zaventem Airport has been so slow to open after last Tuesday morning's bombing, look at this slideshow prepared by the news agency Reuters. The real question is why Brussels Airport authorities thought they could get the facility open any time last week. And it raises real questions about how long Zaventem will actually be closed.
As you know by now, Zaventem has only one check-in area and it serves both departure terminals. As the Reuters photos show, the physical devastation seems much greater than the initial relatively upbeat opening projections posted by the airport authorities might have led us to believe.
This is all apart from the awful human toll. The two devices that did explode in the check-in hall claimed 15 lives and caused hundreds of injuries. A third device brought to the airport by the three terrorists was not used in the attack.
3/29/16, 1:15PM ET, TUESDAY
WEIRD DETAILS EMERGE FROM THE EGYPTAIR HIJACKING
The overnight hijacking to Larnaca, Cyprus, of an Egyptair flight from Alexandria bound for Cairo looks weirder and more convuluted as the hours pass. Besides wearing a phony suicide belt, the suspect claims his only interest was getting to Larnaca to see his ex-wife. Even odder, it appears that at least one passenger on the flight posed for a selfie with the troubled hijacker. The Guardian has more details here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2016/mar/29/egyptair-hijack-plane-from-alexandria-to-cairo-lands-in-cyprus-live
3/29/16, 11:15AM ET, TUESDAY
BRUSSELS AIRPORT STILL CLOSED, UNITED OFFERS WAIVER UNTIL MID-APRIL
Bullet points about the situation in Brussels and other issues around the world.
+ Brussels Zaventem did not reopen this morning and may not open for days--or even weeks. The building that houses the airport's sole check-in facility has been deemed structurally sound. However, Belgian authorities have imposed new security regimens and the check-in area itself was heavily damaged. The airport is literally building a workaround, but that will apparently take many more days.
+ When it does reopen, it still might be best to avoid Zaventem if you need to get to the Belgian capital. Conditions are likely to be rudimentary and security strictures draconian. Instead, fly into Amsterdam or Paris and make you way by car, train or bus to your final destination. A relatively new site, GoEuro.com (http://www.goeuro.com), is a potentially usefully intermodal transit site. It's not complete or totally intuitive, but it and Rome2Rio.com (http://www.rome2rio.com) are better than anything else out there just now. You may be able to use them to construct useful itineraries from reliable European hubs.
+ U.S and Canadian carriers have been slow to embrace the reality of the situation in Brussels. The notable exception: United Airlines. It has extended its travel waiver for Brussels flights through April 12. American's travel waiver extends until April 3. Delta and Air Canada only allow you to change flights until March 31.
+ As you might expect, travel to Europe is taking an immediate hit. STR, the hotel consultants, says hotel occupancy has dropped to 25 percent in Brussels. It's down to 58 percent in London and 67 percent in Paris.
+ Four Americans died in the Brussels attacks last Tuesday on Zaventem and the Brussels Metro, according to U.S. officials. The current death toll is 35 and more than 350 were wounded, say Belgian authorities.
+ Separately, an Egyptair flight originating in Cairo was hijacked overnight (U.S. time). It departed from Alexandria and was diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus, by a man claiming to have a suicide vest. Passengers escaped unharmed when the plane landed in Larnaca and the hijacker did not have explosives. He was also deemed not to be a terrorist, but a mentally troubled Egyptian living in Cyprus.
3/26/16, 3:30PM ET, SATURDAY
BRUSSELS AIRPORT CLOSED UNTIL TUESDAY--AT LEAST
Brussels Airport authorities say there'll be no flights at Zaventem until at least Tuesday, March 29. I would be cautious of that date, too, because airport officials are just now getting access to the part of the international check-in area that was bombed on Tuesday. Approach any opening date with real caution.
Meanwhile, Brussels Airlines, the leading player at Zaventem, has moved its short-haul operations to Liege and Antwerp. Its long-haul operations are now flying out of Frankfurt and Zurich, respective hubs of Lufthansa and Swiss International. All three carriers are part of the Lufthansa Group, of course.
Brussels Airlines has moved its New York/JFK and Washington/Dulles flights to Zurich. They then continue on to Antwerp. From Antwerp, Brussels Airlines is operating a free bus to/from Brussels. The bus departs and arrives from the Brussels National Bank at Boulevard de Berlaimont 18. See here for complete details: https://www.brusselsairlines.com/en-be/misc/BRUMAR22-intercontinental-flights.aspx
Scheduled to fly to Brussels Airlines from Canada? You're out of luck. Brussels has cancelled all flights to/from Canada until at least April 2.
U.S. and Canadian carriers serving Brussels have extended their travel waivers since they have cancelled nonstops to Zaventem. Details below:
+ AIR CANADA http://www.aircanada.com/en/news/160322.html
+ AMERICAN https://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp
+ DELTA https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/brussels-airport.html
+ UNITED https://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx#ExceptionPolicies
Brussels Zaventem is a major hub to/from Africa, of course. If you're looking for alternatives, try KLM via Amsterdam, Air France via Paris/CDG, British Airways via London and Turkish via Istanbul. Or you can overfly Africa and connect backwards via Gulf carriers, Emirates (Dubai), Etihad (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar (Doha).
If you need to get into Brussels from continental Europe, most if not all trains are running again. See: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts
Meanwhile, the Brussels Metro continues to run on a reduced schedule with service to about half its normal stations. Information here: http://www.mivb.be/irj/go/km/docs/STIB-MIVB/INTERNET/splash/splash_nl.html
3/24/16, 4:30PM ET, THURSDAY
BRUSSELS AIRPORT CLOSED UNTIL SUNDAY--AT LEAST
The death and injury toll continues to rise from Tuesday's attacks in Brussels. At least 31 are dead and more than 315 are injured. Many travelers from several nations are still missing.
The Brussels Metro is running again as is the tram and bus network. However, many Metro stops remain closed, including the Maelbeek Station that was bombed. Some tram lines and bus runs remain suspended, too. According to the Brussels transit site, only 38 of 69 stations on the Metro will open on Friday although all four lines will be operating.
The biggest transportation disruption remains Brussels Zaventem Airport, however. The airport authority says the facility will remain closed until Sunday, March 27. But even that date is speculative since the check-in hall, where the bombs exploded, remains an active crime scene. Airport officials haven't even assessed the damage in the building, in fact.
With Zaventem down, Brussels Airlines has moved some service to Antwerp and Liege. But much of its network can't operate at these smaller facilities. That'll especially hurt flights to/from Africa, where Brussels is a major carrier. Intra-Europe carriers are also reacting. Ryanair has moved its Brussels flights to Charleroi, 28 miles from the city center. EasyJet has relocated its Brussels flights to Lille in northern France.
3/24/16, 1:30PM ET, THURSDAY
HARD CHOICES AND SOFT TARGETS
My Seat 2B column at BizJournals.com this week naturally focuses on the terror attacks in Brussels. What's surprising about how the media has covered things is that they are surprised soft targets continue to be hit. They don't seem to understand the realities of running airport and transit services in a free society. And the more security checkpoints you set up, the more unprotected targets you create. Read it here.
3/24/16, 12:30PM ET, THURSDAY
DENVER STRUGGLES BACK TO ACTION
Denver International has reopened today, but not without major delays and cancellations--and continuing difficulty on the Pena Boulevard access road. The Denver Post had the blow-by-blow of yesterday's snowmageddon. According to FlightStats.com, there have been about 200 cancellations and around 600 delays so far today. Worst hit, of course, are Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and United's commuter carriers.
3/23/16, 10:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
COMIC RELIEF IN DENVER--OR NOT
In a week of horrors in Brussels, the snow situation in Denver seems like a bit of comic relief. "As I look out on my patio covered with more than 20 inches of snow, I can attest that it is crazy out here," one Denver-based JoeSentMe member told me via Email. But it was less fun for a JoeSentMe member working in Denver. The airport "is a mess," he said. "I'm working at an airport hotel and have watched the refugees in the lobby all day. The shuttle driver has been getting to and fro, but not easily. Earlier in the evening, he was even having trouble getting up the slight incline to the hotel entrance."
3/23/16, 3:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
A FREAK STORM SHUTS DENVER, A THOUSAND FLIGHTS AXED
An early-spring (okay, a VERY early spring) snowstorm has forced Denver International Airport to close. No flights are landing or taking off and Pena Boulevard, the airport access road, is intermittently impassable.
More than 1,000 flights into and out of Denver have already been cancelled, according to FlightStats.com. This disproportionately affects United Airlines, which operates a large hub at Denver. Southwest Airlines also has considerable operations there although its flights tend to be largely point-to-point.
United's travel waiver policy is here: https://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx It was issued before Denver closed and the cancellations piled up, so it will have to refund or reschedule you on a more flexible basis if your flight has been dumped. Southwest's travel waiver is here: https://www.southwest.com/html/advisories/swa_travel_advisory_20162231458743086907.html
Denver itself is largely cut off as major interstates into and around the city have been closed. There have also been sporadic power outages, too. In fact, much of Colorado and Wyoming have been buried in snow. Road travel all the way to the Kansas line is difficult or impossible.
3/23/16, 3:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
ZAVENTEM REMAINS CLOSED, BUT TRAINS ARE RUNNING
There are no flights today at Zaventem Airport. The airport says it will be closed tomorrow, too. Belgian media reports say the facility will remain closed on Friday, March 25, too. Good news: Trains to/from/through Brussels are operating on near-normal schedules again although there are sizable delays due to increased security regimens. Details here: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts
3/22/16, 9:30PM ET, TUESDAY
ZAVENTEM IS CLOSED TOMORROW, AIRLINES EXTEND TRAVEL WAIVERS
Brussels Zaventem will remain closed at least through Wednesday. Since airport officials haven't even had access to the departure area, where bombs exploded this morning, it's hard to know when the airport could reopen. Thursday seems doubtful, too.
Brussels Charleroi, located about 28 miles from the city center, has been open throughout the day and continues to operate. It is telling passengers to arrive four hours before departure. http://www.charleroi-airport.com/en/brussels-south-charleroi-airport/
The U.S. airlines have broadened and extended their travel waivers.
+ American Airlines (and partners British Airways and Iberia) says you can change travel planned through March 29 and reschedule at no charge until April 12. It's not just Brussels that's covered, but also Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, London and Paris. Details here: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp
+ Delta Air Lines (and partners Air France and KLM) says you can change tickets at no extra charge, so long as you travel by March 31. Besides Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris are also included in the waiver. Info here: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/brussels-airport.html
+ United Airlines allows travel scheduled before March 31 to be changed at no charge until April 12. The waiver covers Brussels, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, London, Luxembourg or Paris. Details: https://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx
Train travel to/from/through Brussels, a key hub, is slowly returning to normal. Eurostar is operating again. Details on the Thalys and other lines are here: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts
At the moment, officials say at least 31 people are dead (11 at Zaventem and 20 at the Maelbeek metro station) and 230 injured (100 at Zaventem and 130 at Maelbeek).
It now seems three suicide bombers were involved at the airport. Two successfully detonated luggage bombs carried on baggage trolleys. The third suspect's device did not detonate and he remains at large. A cab driver who took the men to the airport tipped police. He noticed how large and heavy their bags were and told police that one was left behind at the pick-up spot. Police descended on that location in Brussels and found an explosive device laced with nails and chemicals as well as automatic weapons and an ISIS flag.
As you might have noticed if you flew anywhere today, there was a massively increased presence by law enforcement and other security personnel at airports nationwide. Expect that to continue. In fact, expect plenty of delays transiting airports and getting through security in the days ahead.
Finally, the U.S. State Department has issued a new worldwide travel alert. The wording won't surprise you if you've been through several of these situations. Read it here: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/europe-travel-alert.html
3/22/16, 9:45AM ET, TUESDAY
THE DEATH AND INJURY TOLL MOUNTS
According to official sources, at least 10 people died at Brussels Zaventem Airport when a suicide bomber exploded a device in the check-in area. Belgian broadcasters say police have found a suicide belt at the airport and, separately, an assault weapon near the body of one of the dead attackers. At this time, we know of two blasts at the check-in area, but we do not know how many attackers were involved.
The attack on the Maelbeek metro station has killed at least 20. The Maelbeek station is directly under a street with buildings that house operations of the European Parliament, European Union, European Commission and Belgian Government.
At least 175 have been injured in the two attacks. Brussels Zaventem Airport remains closed indefinitely. The Brussels Metro and all public transportation in the city are closed. Eurostar and many other international trains are suspended.
Flightradar24.com reports that at least 200 arrivals and departures at Brussels Zaventem Airport have been cancelled or diverted since attack at the airport around 8am local time.
Brussels' secondary airport, Charleroi, remains open and flights are departing and arriving. Ryanair is the largest carrier there and four car-rental firms (Avis, Hertz, Budget and Sixt) have a presence. It is about 28 miles from central Brussels. http://www.charleroi-airport.com/
3/22/16, 8:15AM ET, TUESDAY
AIRLINES ALLOW TRAVEL WAIVERS FOR BRUSSELS FLIGHTS
Here's an update on the horrific situation in Brussels, where the airport and a metro station has been bombed.
American Airlines has issued a travel waiver for flights today (which are cancelled) and tomorrow. It is here: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp
Delta Air Lines has issued a similar travel waiver. It is here: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/brussels-airport.html
Passengers have not heard from United Airlines yet because United is always last when it comes to informing customers. But it did issue a press release and today's Brussels flights are cancelled because the airport is closed. One would assume that United would match the American and Delta travel waivers, however.
Brussels Airlines and other carriers in the Lufthansa Group (including Swiss and Austrian) have issued a waiver through March 28. You can rebook or refund by contacting your issuing airline or your travel agent.
The Eurostar Service to/from Brussels is suspended today.
And a correction to the previous update. Delta Air Lines Flight 42 from New York/JFK to Brussels last evening did not land at BRU this morning. It was diverted to Amsterdam and landed safely.
If you are trying to plan ahead, assume U.S. carriers and Brussels Airlines, which serves the United States, will resume flights as soon as possible. Even if there is little demand for travel from the United States to Brussels, the airlines need to get their aircraft to Brussels to pick up travelers who wish to fly home. However, the state of Zaventem itself is unknown. And please note: Brussels Airport originally said it would reopen at 6am tomorrow local time. It has now deleted a specific time reference from its "alarm" data: http://www.brusselsairport.be/en/alarm/69875/
3/22/16, 7:15AM ET, TUESDAY
EXPLOSIONS HIT BRUSSELS AIRPORT, DOWNTOWN METRO STATION
There have been multiple explosions at Brussels Zaventem Airport and at a Brussels metro station in the heart of the city. There are many dead and injured.
Brussels Airport is closed after two confirmed explosions in the departures hall around 8am local time. All flights to and from the airport are cancelled until 6am tomorrow local time. Here is the Brussels Airport statement: http://www.brusselsairport.be/en/alarm/69875/
About an hour later, about 9am local time, there was an explosion at the Maelbeek metro station. The Brussels metro system is also closed. Belgian police have already made some arrests at other stops in the metro system.
Although the Belgian government has not yet given precise numbers, it is clear that at least 30 people are dead and scores wounded. About a dozen of those fatalities were at the airport. The Belgian government confirms that at least one of the explosions at Brussels Airport was caused by a suicide bomber. The Belgian prime minister has called them "blind attacks."
Even if you are not headed to Brussels, you should expect much more rigid and rigorous security regimens at airports worldwide. Expect an upgraded and more obvious security presence at public transit systems worldwide. Needless to say, leave more time to clear security at airports worldwide.
The background of the Belgian situation is a series of security sweeps and arrests in Brussels in recent weeks after last November's terrorism attacks in Paris. There have been no claims of responsibility, but it is logical to assume the attacks were coordinated by branches of ISIS. The leader of its Paris attack in November was arrested in Belgium four days ago.
Overnight flights from the United States to Brussels have either landed safely or been diverted elsewhere.
+ United Flight 950 from Washington/Dulles landed in Brussels at 7:10am. United Flight 999 from Newark landed in Brussels at 7:50am.
+ American Airlines Flight 750 From Philadelphia arrived in Brussels at 7:10am.
+ Brussels Airlines Flight 502 from New York/JFK landed in Brussels at 7:20am.
+ Delta Flight 80 from Atlanta landed at Brussels at 8:15am. That is an hour behind schedule. Delta Flight 42 landed at 8:55am.
Flights in the air from mainland European destinations turned back and returned to their departure points. Most other flights headed for Brussels scheduled for departure after 9am local time were cancelled.
All three major cable-television news networks are in wraparound coverage and that should continue through the daylight hours in Belgium. At the moment, they are live streaming coverage as well. Belgium is five hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time. A reminder, however: There will be lots of "facts" reported that will later be deemed false. So approach all information as suspect in the early hours.
3/22/16, 7AM ET, TUESDAY
IF ONLY ...
If only this was the first time you and I had to discuss terrorism and its affect on travel. But the world is a much meaner place. Here's a collection of columns about the topic. I wish I didn't have to write a single one of them.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.