Via Alpina, Day 0: Brussels Airport – Basel

Due to a major power outage at Brussels Airport, the check-in doesn’t go as planned. The lights in the arrival hall are burning at half power, there is no music playing, all restaurants are closed and the baggage conveyor system doesn’t work. This means that the luggage has to be loaded manually into carts and then taken to the plane via the cellar. Fortunately, we see just in time that our backpacks are on the cart with destination Greece. Wim gets them out of there immediately. “Saved”, we think, “we’ll be fine.”

We continue to the hand luggage control. You know, that place with usually awfully long queues and where we are always sent back to take off our hiking boots to be able to subject them to an extra check. But strangely enough, we are the only ones here. Apart from a few security agents who don’t even look at the video images of our luggage, there is no living soul to be seen. Everyone clearly has other matters to worry about. Hopefully the other passengers of our flight are better inspected. You never know nowadays …

In the boarding room it’s dark as well. It’s also remarkably quiet. There are only a few dozen other people in the immense hall. Where is everyone …? When the screens show that we are allowed to go to the gate we are surprised that there is no one to be seen besides us and one employee. We show our boarding passes to the employee, after which we board the shuttle bus. We have to awaken the driver first, because he fell asleep on his steering wheel.

Two more passengers – clearly business people – are taking the bus as well. The bus stands foot for a while, but then drives towards the aircraft. We suspect that the other passengers have been checked in through another “gate”. After all, the number had been changed very last minute. However, when the bus is parked at the plane we still don’t see any other passengers … The doors of the shuttle bus remain closed for a long time. “The flight is permanently canceled,” I say to Wim. But a bit later the doors of the bus open anyway. We are allowed to walk up the stairs of the plane and at the top a stewardess says “welcome on board”. We sit down quietly in our reserved seats. We look around us with disbelief. Slowly but surely it kicks in. We truly are the only passengers on the plane …!

The flight attendant comes a little later to give us some explanations. She tells us that the other passengers are stranded because of the big power outage. Wim had indeed seen that the check-in desk of Brussels Airlines was closed immediately after us. At that moment, however, we didn’t even notice that we had slipped through the net and were still admitted on board.

“All passengers will be upgraded to first class”, the flight attendant informs us with a big smile. We therefore order a glass of wine and we also get a breakfast served. What a fantastic start of the holiday …! We fully enjoy our private flight. What a unique experience. Truly amazing…!

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When we land in Basel, our enthusiasm quickly gives way to serious concerns. There is no luggage to retrieve from the luggage conveyor belt … Meanwhile, there is also a lot to do in the Belgian media about the power outage at the airport. One of the articles that we get to see immediately puts us with both feet back on the ground again. Apparently today every flight from Brussels left without even one piece of Luggage on it!

So, here we are … With a mobile phone (without charger of course), a camera and some money. Since we don’t have a tent, we don’t have a bed for tonight either. We realize that we can’t go anywhere without our luggage … A phone call to our airline company tells us that our luggage will be sent on the next flight to Basel. And that flight is already tonight! What a reassurance! We therefore use the opportunity to do some sightseeing in Basel.

In the evening we return by bus to the airport to pick up our luggage. But alas … While we are waiting with full of anticipation at the baggage claim, our backpacks don’t show … Both Wim and I see our holiday gradually fall apart. The fact that we had to pick up our luggage from the Greece cart in Brussels provokes our suspicion that our backpacks have landed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Our luggage is probably lost and we may never see it again. Knowing that this year we have bought all new material only makes things worse! I get a small mental breakdown, but Wim tries to cheer me up again. Together we create a grand “plan B”, saying we are going to do another trek with our old camping equipment that is stored in the attic at home. We agree to take the first train back home tomorrow, if it turns out that our luggage hasn’t arrived yet. Admittedly, it is not the ideal scenario. But it makes my tears dry up and forget my worries.

We are going back to Basel looking for a hotel. But that’s easier said than done. Due to a big event in the city, the prices are “sky high”. And with “sky high” I mean astronomically high. “€ 700 for one night”, says a receptionist without blinking an eye. My spirits are sinking to new lows. We explain to the lady in question what happened to us. As a result the price suddenly drops to € 300 a night. The good negotiation techniques of Wim ultimately ensure that we can make € 160 from it. Still not cheap, but at least it’s a big difference with the original € 700 … And we even get a free welcome drink on top of it.

We are going for a drink in the city, but crawl into our bed early. After all, really enjoying a night out is difficult, given the circumstances.

We wake up at 7:15 am. I expect to get a German-speaking employee from the Swiss airport on the phone. But to my great surprise it’s none other than Sven Ornelis (a famous Belgian guy) from the radio station Joe FM, who is calling me so early. Sven Ornelis …? How (the hell) did he get my Phone number? And more importantly: why is he calling me? He explains that today we are front-page news in the newspaper, due to our rather unique private flight of yesterday. He would like to do a live radio interview with me. “Of course that’s possible”, I answer still somewhat dazed. When after the interview I also get to see the article myself , I can hardly believe it. We both laugh out loud.

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Around 8 o’clock I call the airport with renewed enthusiasm to inquire whether our luggage arrived with the flight this morning. But what did you exepect …? Nope … Wim starts to arrange our journey back home, while I do my utmost to put everything into perspective. Let’s say that I am reasonably successful at it … But when I get a phone call from an employee of Brussels Airlines in the afternoon with the message: “Leen, I currently have your baggage in my hands and we’re arranging everything to put it on the next flight “, I dance of joy. Under the motto “seeing is believing”, we keep our “plan B” in mind. To kill the time we visit the Basel zoo in the afternoon. A visit that scores well above expectations.

In the evening we drive towards the airport by bus again. On the way there I call full of excitement with the “lost luggage” service. They tell me that they haven’t found any baggage from Brussels. My spirits are looking for a way down to my shoes for the umpteenth time … But when we arrive at the airport, we almost immediately see our rucksacks from afar. Relief…! I give Wim a big high five, after which we take the first train to Sargans, the starting point of our trip. The train is packed and we have to sit on the floor in the aisle. As if that can spoil the fun. Sitting in the aisle we toast with some wine we were able to buy in the railway station. Cheers! Let the adventure begin!



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