I don’t like airports. Not because I’m afraid of flying, but I don’t like the space of this kind of place (too much people; too much flashy duty free shops; a lot of long corridors full of ads; etc.). I like to travel slowly – I am a high-latency traveller – but sometimes we don’t have the choice. I was invited in Geneva to be a jury member (not to check out the millions I hide at Credit Suisse – just kidding) and I had to take a flight from the Brussels airport in Zaventem to the Swiss capital.
On Monday evening I took two trains from home, I got out from the train station in Zaventem while my old iPod Touch was playing a Mozart concerto (I’m not a fan of Amadeus but the great conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt had passed away and I wanted to hear the sound he produced for Mozart), I passed through the Departures hall and I walked to the security checkpoint zone. I put my backpack on the rails of the screening equipment, everything was ok, and I went through customs. Strangely, the zone was free of officers, no one asked me to produce an ID. I went on my way through those duty free shops I don’t like and arrived at the gate where my plane was supposed to be. 15 minutes later we learnt the flight was delayed for 2 hours because of the traffic controllers strike in France (those French…). Not good as I was tired and was waiting to have a nap on board before finishing to prepare for the next day in Geneva. I quickly realized that the only bar in the area was about to close, I just had the time to grab a (Belgian) beer and I sat in the pseudo Irish pub.
The atmosphere was quite smooth, more and more people were leaving the different gates to go all around the world. I quit the Irish bar to check out the status of my flight, someone told me the it may be postponed to the next day, meaning I would have to take again two trains to go home and two other trains to be back at the airport on Tuesday morning. But the flight was confirmed. The hall was now quite empty, the different shops had closed. While listening to Mozart, I was wondering why the only interesting thing to look at was an Opel luxury car put in the middle of the hall; I was wondering why such a car (that most people can’t afford to pay) was there, alone.
At 22:50 pm the gate opened. I took my ID out of my pocket… but the officer didn’t ask it. A few minutes later I was on board and I started to think about that fact: from the train station to the plane, no one asked me my ID at any moment. Given the recent events in France (the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the November 13 attacks, etc.) and the global threat posed by the so-called “Jihadist terrorism”, I was quite surprised to see that anyone is able to took a plane without showing any paper. It was so strange that I tweeted: “On board. That’s incredible: NO ONE asked me my ID since I entered the airport. I understand now why Molenbeek terrorists can travel safely”. The plane took off, I arrived in Geneva around midnight, I took a taxi, went to the hotel and worked until 2am. I woke up at 7 am, at 9 am I saw someone had responded to my tweet, just a word I didn’t understand (“Prescient”), and I disconnected from the Internet as the jury session was beginning. Half an hour later my mobile started to vibrate again and again, and I got a lot of text messages asking if I was okay. I wondered why all these relatives and friends were worried, then I understood the “Prescient” tweet, and we all learnt about what happened in Zaventem.
At noon I saw a first photography of the airport where I was listening Mozart a few hours before. Hell. The quiet atmosphere has been replaced by chaos and dead people. As a former resident of Molenbeek (where most of the Paris-Brussels terrorists came from), the terrible two last months of 2015 had been quite hard; Salah Abdelsam had been caught last week at 100 meters from my former home; last week too, another accomplice of Abdelsam was arrested in the new neighborough where I live, at 300 meters from my new home; and last Tuesday its “brothers” killed again in a place where I was a few hours before. This never stops. My first (and selfish) thought was I was fortunate that my flight had not been delayed to the following day (if so, I would have been at the airport when the motherfuckers blew themselves up) – a friend from Paris told me that at the very last minute he didn’t attend the Eagles of Death Metal gig at Bataclan because he was too tired. Life is so tenuous. I also told myself that if one can enter a plane without showing any ID, a huge terrorist attack would be quite easy to set up in this airport – but I learnt later that the motherfuckers blew themselves up in the Departures hall, before passing through the screening equipment. That probably means the security management of the airport will move the screening equipment at the entrance of the airport, before the Departures hall, and that’s where the terrorists win – each square metre we lost in terms of public liberty is a victory for them.
The afternoon in Geneva was unreal. It was hard to focus on the works of the students while texting with my relatives in Brussels in order to “repatriate” our little boy from the nursery as all the public transportations were closing down (I thank my former neighbor in Molenbeek who helped with his car – as you can wee, there are good guys in Molenbeek too!). After the jury we went to a bar. The sun was shining, the city was beautiful with the Alps mountains in the background, but the beer had a stale after-taste. We raised our glasses as a tribute to the victims of the attack and I silently shout out to the terrorists: “May you rot in hell”. One thing for sure: for the rest of my life I’ll never listen to a Mozart concerto without thinking of the innocent people who have been killed in Zaventem.