Luggage handlers at Brussels Airport

January 21, 2010 Comments Off on Luggage handlers at Brussels Airport

Flightcare union action at Brussels AirportThe unions representing the luggage handlers at Brussels Airport threaten with a strike. Reason? Competition is on its way!

Now there’s a whole lot to say against these people (and I will,… in a minute), but going on strike because there’s the possibility of more competition? What next? A status of civil servant for luggage handlers at Brussels Airport?

But now for a more personal rant about how luggage handlers work at Brusssels Airport. Once you’ve travelled larger parts of the world, comparison is possible! And Brussels Airport is by far one of the worst luggage handling you can meet. First of all, you have to know that if you come in from a Schengen country you have to walk miles before you get to the luggage collection area. Quite often, even when it’s calm in the airport, you have to wait quite a while for your luggage. In Singapore (as a counter example), we (K & I) have never had to wait for our luggage, no matter how quick the passport control went (and this is also pretty efficient there!).
Union actions at Brussels AirportNow, admittedly, you càn get lucky in Brussels once in a while. And if you’re quite perceptive, you notice that for each flight there’s a couple of people walking away early. And this is where the magic word SLA comes in. SLA stands for Service Level Agreement (is a contract). Service Level Agreements are difficult to define, and that’s an understatement. There are two major objectives in the SLA between the handlers and Brussels Airport as far as displayed for the customers (very transparent it is not): time until first piece of luggage arrives on belt, time until last piece of luggage arrives on belt. Therefore, the handlers will always make sure that a (limited) number of bags arrive quickly. They don’t seem to be too bothered about the rest. This makes me think that the first objective is the most important one in the contract.
Timeliness is of course crucial for customer satisfaction, but it isn’t everything! Another complaint, often overheard at the belts is the following: “Why does all the luggage for 8 (pick any high number) incoming flights arrive on maximum 2 (pick any low number) belts?”. There’s just not enough space for hundreds of people around one single belt, which makes the whole experience dreadful.
Another vital criterium for customer satisfaction is how personnel treat you. And if all goes well, people from Aviapartner and Flightcare can be “relatively” friendly. But when the shit hits the fan, you as a customer will share the shit! And that is not acceptable. The following is probably too anecdotical, but illustrates how Aviapartner/Flightcare deal with difficult situations. We’re talking about the infamous Sunday end of last year where the airport was partially closed. Not many flights could actually come in, but a lot of flights also never left that day. Karen was coming from London where she didn’t make it back via Eurostar. When she finally made it back from Heathrow (12 hours after checking in there…), all the luggage from all the incoming and cancelled flights was being offloaded on one single belt!!! You can image the additional distress of all these stranded and delayed customers who had to look for their luggage which was being thrown on one big pile (the belt was too full!). Nobody from Aviapartner/Flightcare would provide any help and as a passenger you were left on your own.

So what did I want to say with all this, apart from venting my frustrations about these two incompetent companies? SLA’s are not worth a thing if they don’t truly represent how customers are serviced!. And for mr Schouppe (Belgian Minister for transportation), a third handler won’t necessarily solve the issue, unless this third party willing to commit to an SLA taking into account the needs of the traveller: a happy and painless end to a long journey!
Both pictures by Antoine Solidaire, published under a Creative Commons license

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