I rush to the Vueling airlines desk at Brussels airport. Rather breathless. Trying on my best “distressed” look face. Actually, I don’t need to try. I am rather distressed. I have been looking forward to landing in Spain. And it seems the universe colluded. Against me.

Earlier this morning, I wake up really early (like 5 am), trying not to disturb the three other sleeping occupants of my hostel room. Got ready in around 20 minutes and snuck out of the room. I double checked with the guy at the desk as to which station would be closest to the airport. The north, he said confidently.

So I made my way to Brussels Nord station, towing my luggage along. At the counter I ask for a ticket to the airport. He gives me one and says I’d have to get down at the last stop and take a bus. “The train doesn’t go to the airport.” Sounds fine, I think.

He points me to the train and the platform number. I run and make it just as the doors close. Phew!

Around 30 minutes later, the train pulls up at the last stop from where there’s a bus saying “Aeroport”. Excited, that I am getting closer, I jump in.

A rather long journey of around 30 minutes and finally we are deposited at the “airport”. I rush in and find huge queues. For Ryan Air. Right. Whatever happened to all the other airlines? I go to the information desk. He looks at my ticket and says, “This is Charleroi airport, you need to go to Brussels airport.” Uh… right. You know the feeling you get when you reach an airport, and then find out it’s not the right airport? That’s what I’m feeling.

And how far is this other airport? Well, there is an express service for Euro 2000, he says. At this point, I nearly fall off my imaginary chair.

I rush outside. The next bus back is only in around 40 minutes. The cabs don’t go till they have 8 passengers. And there as no way it’s going to be filled soon. I have no option. I pay 2 euros for Internet access (most places don’t have free WiFi or have some deal like “15 minutes free, if you register and bequeath your property to us”) so I can change my flight, but it’s too late. It is 830 am so do I still have an outside chance? Then I find out that the bus takes an hour to reach Brussels Midi, from where I need to take another train to the correct airport. Zavertem, by the way, is the name. Heavens. If only I’d committed that name to my memory and said it to everyone on my way.

I decide to give it one last shot. Rush to a cab and ask if he can take me as fast as possible to the airport. ‘Get in,’ he says and then drives through some side roads (in exactly the style they show in the movies) and then onto the auto route to the airport. I know it’s a losing battle, but what’s the harm in trying? In the movies at least, they usually make it.

Reached the airport at exactly 10 am with 20 minutes to go. Rush to the counter. The lady there checks, but I know it’s too late. They won’t allow me to board now. “If only you had 1 piece of luggage,” she indicates. Ya right, I’ve been travelling for well over a month, missy. Of course, I don’t say it aloud.

So there it is. I am prepared for everything. Except two airports. And looking back, nowhere did anyone ask (the guy at the hostel, the guy at the ticket counter at the station) which one I needed to get to. Of course, I can’t blame them. I should have probably confirmed it by it’s name. But at 630 am in the morning, I was more intent on getting to the airport, than “the” airport.

One would think that after all this travelling, I shouldn’t make this seemingly silly mistake. But we all live and learn. So here I am, stranded in Brussels airport and thinking that cities should be banned from having two airports. Why do they do these kind of things and just confuse the hell out of us? The the last minute prices of tickets don’t help matters.

One more lesson to learn on the road. Get the name of the airport next time. If possible etch it on your forehead. And say it many times. It’s definitely an expensive mistake to make. Especially in Europe.

(PS: To end the story, my final destination was Malaga, but since the flights to this place on the same day was very expensive, I flew to Madrid and then took a train to Malaga.)

10 thoughts on “Why cities shouldn’t have more than one airport

  1. Thank God I haven’t faced this situation till now. This is a lesson you learnt the hard way.

    I wonder why didn’t you know the name of the airport. Generally it’s written on the ticket. no?

    1. Nisha – true, I am not sure why I didn’t note down the name. The ticket actually said Brussels. And no particular name. Which is why, when I was heading to “Charleroi” airport, my alarm bells didn’t ring too loudly. I do admit that I should have checked once before. A hard lesson learnt!

  2. My friend had a hilarious moment at Trivandrum airport. His company staff had come to receive him. Once he reached the terminal exit he doesn’t find him there. He calls him to find that fellow is indeed there at the airport waiting for him. Much “where, really, I can’t see you” later the chap tells him “I can see you sir, you are just coming out….” and then “…no that was someone else!” and finally it dawned on them that he office fellow was waiting at the international terminal.

    I just googled Brussels Airport and it shows me the one at Zaventem. Why the other chap lead you to that other airport instead of asking you befuddles me.

    Don’t blame yourself, there is no mention of a second airport in their wikipedia entry at all. The main airport is just 6 kms away and the one you were lead to 46kms away. Jeez! What bad luck. By default they should have said the main airport!

    1. Haha! Yes, there’s also the domestic and international terminals which are different in some airports. and you’re right. By an error of omissions, I didn’t find out the name 🙁 So, I guess I deserved it. Though I still think there should be only one airport per city!

  3. What do you call someone who reaches the “right” airport on time but gets busy with chatting with each other and forget to check in? It happened to us in China. We say the Great Wall of China and requested the taxi driver to take us to the airport. When we headed to GWC in the morning from the city the route was more urban but on the way back we saw more of countryside. After a point got worried if our cabbie was a baddie. After a couple of anxious hours we were relieved when we saw the airport tower. We relaxed, had tea and true to my husbands style, he started narrating his experiences. You see he was in China for over a month and I joined him just the previous day. A lot of catching up to do. We talked and talked or rather he talked and I listened. Then it dawned on him that he had to check in. You see I was a novice then – back in early 90s. We went to the counter and the lady said the plane was already taxing and can’t be recalled. My husband had to be in Lanshan (our actual destination) the next day as their goods were being shipped. We had some tense moments. Finally I pointed out a plane leaving to Quindao (which I knew was close to Lanshan – benefit of hubby sharing details), he requested for change of tickets which were obliged. Now, he had to figure out our stay in Quindao – he vague knew a contact – made a few calls but we were not sure if we will have someone to receive at the airport. You see these are remote places and practically no one spoke English then. Luckily we were received by a driver who my husband recognized (from an earlier trip) and we were taken to the hotel. Next day we drove to Quindao.

    Sometimes it helps having two airports at close distance!

    On another occasion, my husband traveled internally within China when Passport was not required. For some reason he used to leave it in the checked baggage. When we was returning to Singapore, he did the same just as he reached the counter. Meanwhile the suitcase was already on the belt and travelling. Trust my husband to jump on to the belt and follow the suitcase – I dread to think what if there was a huge drop or if the belt traveled at a steep angle vertically. Of course security people traveled behind him and had to confronted and all that.

    All I can say is experiences are best teachers. We learn what to do and what not to do 🙂

    1. Haha, Aruna – interesting experiences indeed – worthy of your own blog posts I think! Landing in an airport and forgetting to check in? Well, I really don’t have an y reason to feel bad now!

      Can’t get the picture out of your hubby jumping onto the conveyor belt! Must have gotten quite a few people worried there 🙂

  4. I once met some japanese business people outside Hyderabad airport asking for directions to a place in Ahmedabad. They had a meeting there at 11 am when it was already 8:30 in the morning. When i told them it is in a different city and 1 hour flight away they were shocked. Some travel agent booked their flight from delhi!!!! Was a classic mixup but felt bad too for those guys. Supposedly u had somewhat easier escape!!!
    Zaventem airport is direct from midi/noord and its written everywhere at the stations too. You had a bad time because of the stupidity of the ticket vendor who most of the times were clueless there. All they knew was go to the enquiry.

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