Air Belgium Cancels Flights, Pushes Back Launch By Over A Month

Well this throws a wrench in my plans… grrrr!

In early April, Air Belgium began selling tickets for their new route between Brussels Charleroi and Hong Kong. This fascinating new startup airline intends to operate flights between Belgium and China using A340-300s that used to fly for Finnair. The airline first intends to fly to Hong Kong, and then later intends to add flights to mainland China.

I have a lot of doubts about their business model, but naturally I’ve been excited to try them, given that it’s not often you get to fly with a brand new start-up airline.

I booked my ticket for travel with them in business class within the first week of operation. Air Belgium has just informed me that they’re delaying their launch from April 30 to June 3, 2018. Go figure they’re making this announcement just days before they were set to begin operations.

Why is Air Belgium delaying their launch by about five weeks? Two reasons, they claim:

  • They don’t have overfly rights for Russian airspace, and claim that avoiding Russian airspace is not possible
  • Air Belgium isn’t yet in the GDS, meaning that they can’t make their flights visible to third parties (including tour operators and travel agencies), and as a result this has “prevented Chinese tourist groups from being directed to [their] flights”

I can’t speak to what they say about Russian airspace, though clearly their GDS excuse is just them acknowledging that virtually no one has booked their flights, and they’d be losing a lot of money if they operated them.

I’m still not sure exactly what they were thinking? They started selling tickets less than a month before they were set to launch, and they acknowledged at the time that it would be a while before their flights would appear in the GDS. They knew this going in. On top of that, booking them was initially impossible for me, since they weren’t even set up to accept US credit cards.

None of this comes as any sort of a surprise, so I’m not sure what they were expecting? Did they think they’d fill planes with a few weeks notice without even having their flights in the GDS?

For their part, the airline is offering passengers a seat on another airline at no additional cost, a full refund, or a deferred travel date with Air Belgium, “with financial compensation.”

I still want to fly Air Belgium, so I guess I’ll see what they’re offering in terms of “financial compensation” for those who rebook with them in the future.

Best I can tell, this should be eligible for EU261 compensation. For flights within one to two weeks of departure, it seems like compensation is due if they can’t reroute you in a way that gets you to your destination within four hours. There’s no option out of Charleroi that would get me to Hong Kong within that timeframe, unless they put me on the Cathay Pacific flight out of Brussels, though I’d think Brussels would be considered a different market than Charleroi. Does that mean I’d be eligible for 600EUR in cash?

Anyway, here’s the full email I was sent by Air Belgium:

Dear passenger,

We are very sorry to announce to you that Air Belgium has decided to reschedule its flights of May 2018 to Hong Kong including yours. Circumstances have forced us to reschedule the launch date – which was originally planned on April 30th – towards June 3rd 2018. There are two main reasons that made it unavoidable for us to make this hard decision, which we will explain to you further on in this letter.

But first allow us to express our sincere apology for this unfortunate set-back and to assure you that we are doing everything we can to find a satisfying solution for you. This solution will consist of three compensation proposals:

  • A seat on a flight of another airline, so you can reach Hong Kong as planned without any additional cost.
  • A deferred travel date with Air Belgium, with financial compensation.
  • A full reimbursement.

Our team will call you as of tomorrow to explain these proposals and to discuss which one you prefer.

There are two reasons behind this decision. Despite all efforts of our teams and the Belgian authorities, we are still expecting to receive the overflight permit from the Russian Authorities, knowing that overflying Russian airspace is unavoidable. Air Belgium did secure all other required permits well in advance. However, the Russian permit has not yet been granted. The second issue is that the uncertainty created by the above together with complicated and delayed GDS implementation – GDS is the system which should make our flights visible to third parties such as tour operators or travel agencies worldwide – prevented Chinese tourist groups from being directed to our flights.”

We sincerely hope you understand that we had no other option and we hope you will fly with us soon!

Bottom line

Now I really have to rethink my plans. I had booked a trip that would have me flying Ukraine’s 777 to Europe, Air Belgium from Europe to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Airlines back to the US. I intentionally planned this all with only short stays in each city, and without Air Belgium the trip won’t work out. I’m sure I’ll figure out something, though I’m potentially on the hook for quite a bit in change fees.

But bigger picture can I just ask what the heck unrealistic startup airlines like this are thinking? Air Belgium’s business model has been confusing from the beginning, but this just seems like such an amateur move. They sell tickets less than a month before departure and those flights don’t even show in the GDS, and they’re surprised the flights are wide open?

I’ll be very curious to see if they stick to their new launch date.

Comments

  1. You say none of this comes as a surprise yet you booked anyway and built an itinerary/trip around these flights and are now annoyed at them pushing their launch? Since you suspected this may happen why book so early in the first place?

  2. @ Revatron — It’s always something I’m conflicted about with new airlines, routes, and seats. I want to review the experiences as quickly as possible, but there’s always the risk of things changing, as has happened here. The only way I could make this trip work was to make it pretty quick due to commitments I had before and after.

    I’ll be out some change fees probably. Of course I’m annoyed, but this isn’t the end of the world for me, as it was a risk that was worth taking.

  3. You should fly Hainan Airlines from Brussels. They fly from Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. Maybe this will give you a chance to try Cathay Dragon first class.

  4. On the hook for change fees? Just accept their offer for a seat on another airline. You’ll probably get a business class seat on a real airline for the price of the air Belgium ticket.

  5. Now they get bad marketing also…not a good start. It took Norwegian years to get the Russian permit

  6. Why don‘t you just let them rebook you on Cathay? I now regret that I didn‘t book a cheaper ticket on Air Belgium and could have gotten a free upgrade to CX.

  7. The easiest is to accept their offer of flying on another airline so your return trip won’t be disrupted. Consider reviewing that flight. Without looking who flies there, consider Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, EVA (AMS-TPE-HKG), etc.

    Bon voyage, Lucky!

  8. I would take the option of either being rebooked on another carrier and run fast! Their business model was questionable from the beginning and judging from this fiasco, there seems to be a distinct possibility that they may not get off the ground at all. Cut your losses and move on!

  9. if you had been on a US3 you would just be thankful to not being beaten up. Americans have ceded so much power to corporations and people that love the party that loves the corporations.

  10. I think Air Belgium probably has been making *too much money* on their long haul charter operations for companies like Suriname Airways and others. Why start scheduled flights when the long-haul charter market is heating up for peak summer travel season? If Air Belgium can pick up some decent Europe to Africa, Caribbean, etc. charter contracts, why even bother with scheduled svc.

  11. I flew the KF J product last Saturday, when they did a 3h testflight over Europe (was just 50€, for charity)
    https://www.airbelgium.com/en/flytogether

    Inflight product was kind of ready, with a few optimalisations to be made to the soft product (there wasn’t yet real champagne etc).
    IFE had only a few movies, no music/TV series.
    Food was okay, better than I expected.

    Seat was quite good, make sure to have a throne/window seat or an aisle seat with the big armrest on both sides (every seat that has the foot cube of the seat behind under the armrest).

    Crew was motivated but had few experience with J service (most come from Jetairfly/TUI and Thomas Cook).

    Nice detail: they’ll market a premium economy product via agencies/touroperators. People who book this will initially get the J seat, without choice of meal.

    Economy gets only a complimentary drink during the meal service.
    Alcoholic drinks and drinks after the meal service are chargeable (e.g. 2,50€ for a can of coke).

    I wish them much succes but think their business can only be sustainable if they run break even on Chinese tourgroups.
    Most of the high yield Traffic will go to cathay, and not flying on FRI/SAT ex BE is also not good for leisure Traffic.
    Many (Flemish) people also dislike (the location of) Charleroi airport.

    Interesting how this will develop. I hope I’ll be not one of the few ones that flew Air Belgium at all…

  12. A calculated risk in booking an unknown quantity start-up. Win some, lose some but live to fly another day, a different route.
    Why not try Finnair…or the new(ish) J on KLM

  13. For those wondering “Lucky, why did you choose such unreliable company to fly with?” “fly ‘normal’ airlines”.

    He flew all the other airlines on numerous occasions. Simple google search can prove it if you don’t want to search archives on here.

    Lucky likes to review new airlines. Therefore he went to such lengths to even fly Air Belgium.

  14. Consider flying with Scoot from Athens to Singapore. They have Scootbiz so it shouldnt be much different than AirBelgium

  15. They offered to reroute you which is good as I doubt they have Interline agreements. So they also need to reimburse costs to travel to Brussels and comp would be due if you arrive over 3 hrs later and you were notified within 2 weeks – 300 euros

  16. Well i’m booked on the 4th of June, let’s see if they can fly out then, and if you join me, think business class will be ours 🙂

  17. I like how their May schedule is listed as “Sold out”…
    They have some June/July dates also listed as Sold out – I guess automatic re-booking of passengers from April?

  18. @Richi – Scoot Biz is basically a domestic first class seat in the US with slightly less pitch. Air Belgium at least had staggered flat bed seating.

    But I second the Scoot option.

    @Lucky – you haven’t really flown ‘low-cost, long-haul’ before and definitely not on Scoot! If Sam Chui can do it in Air Asia, then you can too!

    You could do that, then pop up to Osaka on Singapore Airlines new 787-10 regional J class seat, then pop over to Hong Kong as planned for the Hong Kong Airlines flight.

  19. Air India operates a fun fifth freedom 787 flight from Osaka to Hong Kong so you could, conceivably catch that.

  20. I second @Paolo’s suggestion: see if Air Belgium will reticket you onto the KLM flight out of AMS. You could keep your itinerary intact as AMS is a relatively short train ride from Brussels; and, it’s been awhile since you’ve reviewed KLM’s business class.

  21. @ Lucky

    Clearly EC 261/04, but how do you enforce compensation from an airline which at this point is still largely virtual ?
    My best guess, in case of difficulty, is to seize the Belgian agency in charge (there is one per country) and make sure that they pay the EU 600 once they are afloat (if ever…).

  22. Sorry to hear about the cancellation! Who have thought that they are so struggling badly ..well, let us go further..It is your decision to try them in the future, meaning rebooking for a later date and get the EU 261 compensation ..but I personally have not got a good feeling and trust to do a rebooking in a later date with them..They should improve themselves first!..Meaning let them rebooked you with the next possible flight to HKG or PEK..try the outmost best choice..not only from BRU but other choices like CDG, AMS, FRA etc..
    And if it is possible or as options do not forget the other airlines you want to try Air Algerie, Fly Dubai, Middle East Airways..
    I just looked through AH..it has a connection BRU-ALG -PEK. As you have not tried their C product it will be a great chance. They have their A330-300 with the herringbone seat on board..ftom PEK xou can fly Cathaydragon to HKG in F class.

  23. Lucky you could get from Kiev to London and just change it and go KBP – London or just go from BRU – London and then Fly QF9 new 787 LHR – PER then PER – SIN – HKG on SQ’s new 787-10 Dreamliner (as they fly the 787-10 to Perth) to meet up with your Hong Kong Airlines flights back to the US.

  24. “… though I’d think Brussels would be considered a different market than Charleroi. ”
    It depends if you look at it. It is a different market in terms of target audience (leisure travellers vs professional travellers, mainly), but BRU and CRL are considered the same market in terms of airports in the neigbourhood. Even CDG and AMS are considered the same market. When EK didn’t fly to BRU after the terrorist attacks they rebooked me to/from AMS but didn’t provide transport between BRU and AMS as they claimed it to be the same market.

  25. Well, let’s just say that I’m looking forward to reading all about Air Belgium in Cranky Flyer’s annual “airlines we lost” post at the end of 2018… 😉

  26. Take a refund and rebook later when they really get going. The combination of reasons for delay would indicate real problems . Russia is irritated by EU sanctions so probably this overfly permit is going to take a long time. Remember that Brussels is the seat of the EU so maybe Russia is ”giving the finger “.

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