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Although Sabena went bust, it has now re-emerged under a different name (SN Brussels Airlines) but using much of Sabena's infrastructure and personnel. In May/June 1998, I and many other passengers experienced an extremely disappointing standard of service from Sabena, following which I was never properly compensated. The events described on this page are entirely true and accurate, and have not been exagerated in any way. Furthermore, I was told by baggage handling agents at London Gatwick that Sabena lose baggage destined for Gatwick nearly every day. I was living and working in Berlin and on 29th May 1998, I and two work colleagues boarded flight SN498 from Berlin Tempelhof to Brussels from which we had booked a connecting flight, SN667 to London Gatwick. We had arranged return flights so that we would enjoy 64 hours in London with family or friends. The Berlin to Brussels flight left 40 minutes late and when we subsequently landed in Brussels, we were urged by Sabena staff to hurry to our connecting flight SN667, to London Gatwick, as we were told it was about to leave. When we boarded the Sabena plane (operated by Virgin Express), we discovered that the plane was not due to take off at the scheduled time because of a delayed connecting flight from which other passengers were expected. Therefore we waited patiently whilst other passengers protested. It appeared that Sabena/Virgin preferred to keep around 100 passengers waiting an unacceptable period of time in order to avoid paying a hotel bill for just a few passengers. Furthermore, the lavatory floor of the plane was covered in urine and the basin was blocked. When it was finally decided after around an hour that our flight would leave without waiting for the connecting flight, the pilot announced that we would be leaving in five minutes. However, it was then discovered that there were discrepancies between the passenger list and the baggage list because of an
error by Sabena. Following this, I and other passengers witnessed our own baggage being removed from the plane. When a Sabena ground staff representative boarded the plane, we questioned him about this and he assured us that our baggage had been reloaded on to the plane. We were therefore delayed a second hour at Brussels. When we arrived 1½ hours late at London Gatwick, I and at least 20 other passengers discovered that our suitcases were still in Brussels as they had not been reloaded on to the plane, contrary to the assurances of the Sabena representative earlier. Despite my carrying only my laptop PC, with no change of clothes or other necessities, Sabena's agents (GHI) at London Gatwick were unable to provide me with any temporary replacements. I therefore completed the forms given to me by GHI in detail and requested an urgent delivery of my delayed suitcase. I had to telephone both GHI and Sabena numerous times on the following day (Saturday) before Mr van der Perrens at Sabena at Brussels Airport agreed to send my baggage via London Heathrow to reach me for Saturday evening where I had a night out planned in London. Despite my explaining the urgency that I must receive my suitcase in that I had no change of clothes, I was told that it could not be delivered until flight SN609 arriving at London Heathrow at 18:45. Despite numerous phone calls to Sabena's agents at London Heathrow (Aer Lingus), my suitcase arrived over 24 hours late at 22:20. Since we had to stay in to wait for my suitcase and I did not have a change of clothes, we had to cancel our entire evening out in London. Furthermore, the outside of my brand new suitcase had been badly damaged by a groove and other scratches, a flap on the inside had been damaged by being ripped from its fastenings, my cordless phone had been switched on and left switched on and the floppy disk drive for my laptop PC had been tampered with and no longer worked. Also electrical
cables had been unravelled and left in a very untidy state. Because I had lost all faith in Sabena to handle my baggage responsibly, on the return flight SN646 from London City to Brussels on 1st June 1998, I asked the cabin staff if I could watch my suitcase be loaded on to the (small) plane, having explained my earlier problems on the outward flight. The cabin staff were very understanding and I was able to witness my suitcase both being loaded in London and unloaded in Brussels, together with the suitcase of one of my colleagues. However, when we boarded the connecting flight SN497, from Brussels to Berlin, the cabin crew were not so accommodating. In fact, despite explaining how Sabena had ruined my weekend and that I therefore had no faith in Sabena to load my suitcase on to the plane, the cabin crew were obstructive and unhelpful and could not give me an assurance that my suitcase had been loaded. When I politely protested, the crew, including the Captain or First Officer, became rude and addressed me as "tu" (whilst speaking French). The Captain or First Officer told me I shouldn't book connecting flights and that if I didn't stop complaining he would call the police (as other passengers were becoming worried that their baggage had not been loaded, and their worries turned out later to be justified). When I left the plane, I asked a stewardess for the name of the Captain or First Officer who had spoken to me so rudely. She refused and then suggested that I never fly with Sabena again. When we arrived in the baggage reclaim area in Berlin, to my astonishment, my suitcase eventually appeared, but those of many passengers including that of my colleague had been left in Brussels despite his suitcase being next to mine when it was unloaded from our previous flight from London. This caused us to have to wait around an hour while a report was taken as we all were sharing onward transport. I was working in Berlin
and was returning to London just for the weekend for personal reasons. All Sabena did to compensate me was to pay for an identical replacement suitcase and to give me a voucher for BEF 6400 (EUR 158.65). SABENA stands for Such A Bad Experience, Never Again
Flying Sabena can give you a serious headache. I recently flew from Glasgow to Geneva via Brussels. Here are a few tips from my experience for anyone flying with them. 1) Don't expect your baggage to arrive on the same flight as you do. Sabena are notorious for delayed or lost baggage. Pack anything valuable and necessities as hand luggage. 2) Don't expect Sabena to notify you if your luggage arrives on a later flight. They are so snowed under with loads of bags they haven't the staff etc to phone. I spent all day phoning the number given by the airport and it was constantly on voicemail. I ended up phoning Sabena head office who told me that my bags had arrived in Glasgow. 3) Don't expect Them to deliver your bags in a reasonable timeframe. I waited for 48 hours after I knew my bags had arrived at the airport for Sabena to phone and deliver them. This did not happen. I returned to the airport, and politely asked for my bags which i knew were there ... but I was told they had not arrived. After losing my temper and lots of swearing I was finally brought my bags! 4) If you need to change your flights, Sabena will charge you at least £80 per person, in my case they couldn't agree what to charge so they charged the maximum fare. 5) Generally their staff will be unhelpful, rude and
uncaring. Believe me even if they have the cheapest fares for a flight its not worth the hassle... And finally I bought my tickets on the web where the airline was advertised as Swissair, only when the tickets arrived did we find out the truth.... aaaargh.
The Such a Bad Experience Never Again joke was told to me by a Belgian in Laos some years ago. I have used Sabena out of Edinburgh to get to Prague and Budapest and they were competitavely priced. The flights were on time and the inflight service was OK but you could see that they were cost cutting. At the time they were losing a fortune. Swissair invested in them and things were meant to get better. They did get new aircraft. Reliability improved but they are still loosing money and Swissair are going to pull the plug. Luggage can be a problem due to tight connections at Brussels. My main complaint is the LACK of SAFETY. I work at an airport and if a passengers bags are on the aircraft and the passenger does not board then that passengers bags should be offloaded. Time and time again I have seen bags come off Sabena flights AHEAD of the passenger who has not made the connection. This is scandelous. What is even more scandelous is that when reported to the D.T.I. they do nothing about it.
This is a money saving tip for travelers whom book travel with Sabena airlines, but whom actually travel with Virgin Express on a codeshare basis.(Codesharing is when two or more airlines actually sell seats on a flight). If you travel from Heathrow to Brussels, and book via a travel agent or direct with Sabena the fares can be very high, for example a day return on the above routing-cheapest sabena fare is £245 plus airport taxes and passenger charges.Try booking on Virgins Express's Website at www.virginexpress.com and you will find the same flights available from £28 EACH WAY plus tax subject to availability. I would avoid connections in Brussels under one hour..this is why they have a lot of complaints from People with delayed baggage.Sabena sells it service on quick flight times and allows a minimum of only thirty minutes for changing planes.Its asking a lot for baggage to be fully unloaded on a full flight in that time, never mind transfering half way round the world to the other side of the airport. Sabena airlines can be a very cheap way of travelling from A to B.Like all airlines they dont get it right all the time.You can pay upto three times as much and travel with British Airways, but from past travel, they still lose your baggage and you get rude and unhelpful staff in for the extra price....thats one thing Ive never found with Sabena
I originally flew Sabena from London to Belgium as I had got frequent flyer points from a partner airline, Austrian Airlines (AUA) which would entitle me to an upgrade (from crated veal-calf class to cattle class!). However it was not something that I would do again in a hurry. Sabena reeks of all imcompetence Belgian. Having managed to lose my friend's baggage it took three months to claim money back from them for the taxi they sent them in, as they'd accidentally missed the last courier service. They were ratty, disinterested, although I did derive great satisfaction from reducing three of them to tears at Zaventem Airport, argueing their stupidity into the ground first in English and then in French. Another time they claimed that the airport was not manned at weekends and that I would have to wait three days for the luggage, whereupon I promptly asked them to stake their week's pay on this. Waving a diplomatic pass (fake - thanks to a friend working at the EU) they suddenly started cooing around and bags materialised in twenty minutes, and I then had the satisfaction of lambasting them all individually about their shoddy security. The service was septic, and is best avoided. In fact as a tip, if going to Brussels from London take Eurostar, as your baggage won't go missing. In future only let jilted ex-girlfriends and mortal enemies fly Sabena. On a further point though, there is little point doing London to Brussels with them, as Eurostar works out just as quick, after you have got to and from the airports and checked in. The only thing that might have interested me with them, is that they do (or at least did) a student ticket from Belgium where you get 24 hours flying time for 24000 Belgian Francs (under 400 pounds) although restrictions do apply. I now take detours to avoid flying with them, and was not surprised when my parents' baggage went missing recently with
The good stuff.... Sabena offers relatively cheap flights to loads of destinations around Europe, all of which travel via Brussels. I used them several times because they are one of the few operators who offer flights to smaller towns in Europe from Scotland. The price varies depending on where you book it from, student fares are available if you book through someone like campus travel and that means that you can change the date of your flight - something that is not available otherwise. I found the fare to be around £50-60 cheaper then BA. But..... In terms of service. The flight itself was fine, with friendly staff who were willing to help. However each flight I took was delayed, only by about 20 minutes but the connection time at Brussels can be really tight which can make all the diiference. Brussels airport is huge so you need to allow yourself around half an hour to get from flight to flight at peak times - which is something they neglect to tell you when you book. On 2 occasions I missed my connection and had to wait 5 hours for the next flight, not only that but absolutely no apology was offered for the inconvenience. Lastly they have a bit of a habit of losing luggage as it happened to several people I know last year,(including me) all of which were travelling on seperate flights. They blamed it again on the short connections. Basically the cheaper price and convenient destinations are outweighed by the hassle you get if they are late - don't do it unless you have to!
I used to fly SABENA very regularly, not because I wanted to, but because the timing of their flight was optimal for my requirements. I cannot say I was delighted travelling with SABENA. Both thumbs up for their catering. If you ever fly SABENA and you like bread, half-way through your email new bread is going to be served. Do not deny it. Take it as it is different than the one you had before. It’s crusty and warm, undoubtedly the best bread I have ever had in the air. On the other hand I have never been lucky with the stewardesses. They are always in a bad mood, and a bad disposition, and what’s worse than all that is that they can very often insult you in a very subtle way.
Sabena serves many destinations to Africa out of Brussels, and you can connect from the larger regional airports at the same discounted fare as is available out of Heathrow. Where is the best place to buy tickets on Sabena? This is my best advice based upon 10 years experience of selling discounted airline tickets - but if you think you already know everything, and just want to find out the cheapest place to buy it for this airline, then skip to the last paragraph! Lets face it, all airlines can get you from A to B, sometimes you have to change at C, sometimes you have to hang around at C, but if price is your main concern, read on .... First, as an ex-travel agent, let me explain how the system works. Nearly all airlines belong to a cartel known as IATA, which amongst other duties, helps to regulate the official prices between each pair of worldwide destinations. My first piece of advice is, never phone the airline for the official fare, except as a last resort - their staff are trained to extract the highest fare they can get away with, and they are never going to tell you that one of their competitors has a better deal, or that you can save money going the next or previous day. Furthermore, they can only sell at the officially agreed price. Luckily for us consumers, and unluckily for the airlines, they cannot sell all their seats at the official price, especially if a much better, more direct airline has the same price. For example, if the official fare to, say, Bangkok is £600 from airline A (non-stop in 12 hours) and the same price from airline B (19 hours with a 7 hour wait changing planes in Karachi airport) then it is obvious which will sell out first. In order to generate market share, less popular airlines will unofficially discount their fares through wholesalers known as "consolidators" - these can sometimes save you more than half of the official fare. These conso
lidators appoint specialised agents, and sometimes you can even save more money if the consolidator will deal with you direct. You may be surprised to learn that, depending on the length of the journey, the consolidator is only charging you £10 - £40 more than the "factory" price given to them by the airline. Contrary to popular misconception, it is not risky to deal with these so called "bucket shops" - If they let you down, they can be heavily fined or even jailed - everything is covered by the government ATOL scheme, so it is a lot safer than, for example, paying for a three-piece suite in advance to a High Street furniture chain. To summarise, these are my recommendations: Contact the airline for their best official price, on 0208 780 1444 Call the consolidator on 0207 409 2620 (Citibond - ATOL 3432).
Sabena - AKA Such A Bad Experience Never Again. I have flewn with Sabena several times over the past year, not by choice may I add. Their flight times are all listed about 20 minutes longer than the flight actually takes, I believe this is due to the fact 20 minutes is the average delay on each of their flights, hence you usually still manage to arrive at their estimated arrival time. However it's not guaranteed that your luggage will, or if it does you may have a long wait for it to come out of the luggage hold, especially if landing in Brussels. Free soft drinks are offered in economy class, alcohol has to be paid for and you are no longer offered those little bags of peanuts. This is due to peanut allegies, I don't disagree with offering something else in exchange but they obviously left the replacement choice upto some kind of nutritionist health freak. So you are now offered something called Snacks from Around the world. To me this suggests they change the snack from time to time, however they don't. What you are given is dried broad beans and sun flower seed colnels! I would love to know where in the world people believe dried broad beans are something someone would choose to eat, then I can avoid ever going there! Also they have some kind of facination with salmon, I recieved this about 14 times out of 18 flights. Then finally there is always the possibility you will end up on a virgin express flight, now if I've paid virgin express prices I don't mind their service... Actually I do but that's a different opinion.