A couple of weeks ago, Jet Airways was one of the airlines stuck in a bombing situation which happened at Brussels Airport. It was the last week for them of operating in Brussels, as they were going to switch to Amsterdam the week after. They managed to evacuate all their passengers via Amsterdam later that week.
The Economic Times wrote a piece today covering the behind the scenes story about how Jet Airways’ responded to the situation. It should give you some insight into how detailed operational plans are in an emergency response scenario, and how it still means pulling strings to get the job done. The reporter does get some parts wrong however, for instance the timing of the Jet Airways huddle and the destination of the recovery flights.
Initiating Emergency Response
The first news about the blast came from a pilot who was at the Airport. Jet Airways’ routinely has their pilots layover at the Sheraton Hotel which is right across the Brussels Airport, and these pilots witnessed the unfortunate blasts as they were getting ready to report on duty. The first call came 2 minutes after the blast happened.
Jet Airways swung into action and 20 officials across teams (CEO, flight ops, engineering, HR, safety and emergency ops, e-commerce & marketing, cargo and corporate communications to name a few) were assembled in the Emergency Response Centre. These people worked 62 hours straight to get it all sorted out. Their social media feed and phone lines were flooded with worried people asking for information (not just about the passengers on the ground, but also about reschedules and cancellations, etc.)
The first question the acting CEO of Jet Airways asked,
Are my passengers, my crew and our assets safe? That was the thing in our minds
Phone lines were cut at Brussels, and hence data was the only way to communicate. WhatsApp came to the rescue and was prominently used.
Local Emergency Response
As per the ET news report, Jet narrates that they felt helpless being so far away from the situation. So, their local staff, at least 20 of them, swung into action and started operating from a local hotel close to Brussels Airport.
This is a standard procedure we use. I obviously can’t dispatch somebody overnight. Brussels was shut. Even if we were to activate someone in Europe, he or she would take some time to get in. So they took up a room at Holiday Inn, a hotel close to the airport, and operated from there.
It is important to note that Brussels was under the grip of fear on this particular day with two blasts at the airport and one at the metro station slightly later. That for Jet Airways and other airlines, it was not about their own safety but that of their passengers and other colleagues stuck in the situation is important.
In Mumbai, the Jet team faced different challenges. First was communication. There was a deluge of calls from families of passengers. Messages were also pouring in on the social media. Second, the airline had to co-ordinate with authorities in India and Brussels. Third, the passengers at Brussels had to be relocated.
How it all worked out
Eventually, once Jet could figure the whole plan out, they knew the move to Amsterdam was the best way forward, since there was no timeline as to when would the Brussels airport reopen with the ongoing investigation. Jet already had infrastructure in Amsterdam now, and the chairman Naresh Goyal got the Indian government to intervene, so that the passengers could access the Schengen Zone without the necessary visa.
On March 23 night, 15 buses carried Jet passengers to Amsterdam. The 253 kilometre ride took two and half hours. They were accommodated in 300 hotel rooms across the city. On Thursday, two Jet planes flew into Amsterdam with only pilots — as ferry flights. One plane carried 214 passengers back to India and the second flew others to Newark. The rest flew on KLM and Delta.
The reporter got Newark wrong, the second plane flew to Toronto.
Fortunately, one of the staff injured is completely fine now, and the other crew, who became the face of the incident is on her road to recovery as well. Jet Airways in fact, dispatched their own doctors from India to help with the recovery oversight of their two employees. All the Jet Airways’ assets (planes) were retrieved from the Brussels airport unharmed, and the passengers were brought to their homes safely. Baggage is still being retrieved and returned to those it belongs to.
Hats off to Jet Airways for the effort they put in to successfully close this chapter and put it behind them. Here is the link again for the complete story from ET.