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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 13:27 GMT
Chaos for Sabena ticket-holders
Staff demonstration Wednesday
Staff as well as passengers have been left furious
Thousands of passengers holding worthless Sabena tickets have been left in the travellers' equivalent of a black hole.

At least 5,300 people had been due to fly with Sabena from Brussels today, said an airline spokesman, working from a virtually deserted headquarters near the airport.

Thousands more would have been travelling on inward flights - including nearly 40 flights from the UK alone - but no total figures have been made available.

It is very, very difficult for a lot of passengers, but we don't have the means or the personnel to help them

Sabena spokesman Wilfried Remans
The airline has told people not to bother even trying to travel.

But those determined enough to try may find their Sabena ticket is accepted on other carriers.

Some airlines are charging supplements to Sabena passengers.

Stranded abroad

Others are allowing them to fly for free, probably for today only, and only if there is spare capacity.

It adds up to a chaotic and unpredictable situation for people trying to reach their destinations - or to return to Belgium from airports around the world.

Accurate information is virtually impossible to come by for passengers, and Sabena says it has no figures for people stranded after making the outward trip of a return flight.

Candle vigil by staff
Some workers lit candles as the bankruptcy meeting took place
At Sabena headquarters, even the telephone operators have stayed away. A handful of press officers, internal communications staff and personnel officers were virtually the only people who had turned up for work, after all general staff were told to stay at home.

The UK call centre has been swamped with inquiries. It has transferred as much information as possible to its UK-based website,

"Our call centre cannot handle the volume of calls," said a UK spokeswoman for Sabena.

Sabena is appalling. The image of Belgium has disappeared

Stranded holidaymaker
UK passengers are being allowed onto Virgin Express flights to Brussels free of charge, says Sabena.

British Midland and BA are also carrying Sabena ticket-holders, but a supplement has to be paid by the passengers.

For flights from Belgium, American Airlines was accepting Sabena passengers for free, while Dutch carrier KLM and Virgin Express were charging supplements, said airline spokesman Wilfried Remans from Brussels.

"We have to apologise to people. It is very, very difficult for a lot of passengers, but we don't have the means or the personnel to help them.

"We have told them it is no use coming to the airport."

Investor hope

Final news on bankruptcy, and on finding investors to salvage some or all of the business, was still awaited, said Mr Remans, leaving a void in firm information as well as in flights.

Wednesday's chaos followed angry scenes on Tuesday, as Sabena staff learned of the airline's collapse.

"Sabena is appalling. The image of Belgium has disappeared," said one of the hundreds of stranded holidaymakers.

Dozens of Sabena staff in Brussels demonstrated and beat drums in front of deserted check-in desks.

The government was later reported to have brought in extra police to deal with possible disturbances.

See also:

06 Nov 01 | Business
Sabena cancels flights
01 Nov 01 | Business
Swissair rescue hopes brighten
17 Oct 01 | Business
Sabena rescue gets EU blessing
17 Oct 01 | Business
Europe says no to airline aid
12 Oct 01 | Business
Airlines ask EU for more aid
07 Nov 01 | Business
Sabena: From pioneer to failure
12 Oct 01 | Business
Round-up: Aviation in crisis
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