While the Atlanta-based airline’s flights into the Belgian capital that day either landed safely or were diverted to other cities, two bombs exploded near the check-in counter on opposite sides of the departures hall, killing multiple people and wounding many others. Another failed to detonate. Later, one went off at the Maelbeek metro station, bringing the death toll of the coordinated attacks to 31, including two Americans, U.S. officials confirmed today.
The airport is to remain closed at least through March 27 as officials assess the damage.
Delta had already offered its condolences to the family and friends of the victims but put out a new statement upon learning that some of them were poised to fly with the airline.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy in Brussels. On behalf of all Delta people, I extend our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers to those who lost loved ones in the March 22 tragedy in Brussels. Delta people are grieving with you,” said Ed Bastian, incoming Delta CEO.
J.P. Kalmeijer, who runs the Cognegy LLC consultancy in Atlanta, had been in Belgium for two weeks and was slated to fly home from Brussels Wednesday morning. He would have been checking in on Delta around the time of the blasts if they were planned just one day later.
“It feels a little surreal, certainly if you know exactly where the bomb exploded and know that it was the Delta counter and that you could have been there,” he said.
When it became clear that the airport wouldn’t open Wednesday or Thursday, he booked a flight back from Amsterdam and drove his rental car there. Amazingly, in his view, there were no border controls, and there didn’t seem to be any heightened security at the Schiphol Airport.
Back in Delta’s hometown, the Belgian community gathered Thursday night at the Bantam + Biddyrestaurant in Ansley Mall to express solidarity with the victims.
The gathering was hosted by beATL, which helps Belgians stay connected in Atlanta. The group was born out of a need to help recent arrivals deal with the loneliness of expatriate life, where transience sometimes makes it tough to connect with the host community on a meaningful level.
“The easiest relations as foreigners are the ones with people in the same boat as you: someone who has relocated, someone in a mixed-nationality couple, someone who has lived in Belgium,” said Patricia Kalmeijer, J.P.’s wife and a realtor who focuses on helping internationals settle in Atlanta. ”Those understand you better.”
Of course, beyond social connections, it’s good to have emotional support especially in times like this, she said.
“It has been a very agitated week,” she added.
She organized the beATL solidarity event in a little more than a day with some help from Shaun Doty, executive chef at Bantam + Biddy, who opened the restaurant and provided wine and food for the 60 or so people who showed up on short notice.
After a moment of silence and a few words from Consul General Genevieve Verbeek, the event became less of a solemn vigil and more of an informal forum to share stories and demonstrate that Belgian spirit is alive and well. One lady brought her waffle iron. Others wore the red, yellow and black of the Belgian flag on soccer scarves. Some told stories of landing in Brussels on the day of the attacks. Representatives from the consulates of France and Ireland were also there to show support.
“For me it was not the idea of doing something sad; it was trying to show some respect and comfort and also show that our spirit will never die and we will be strong no matter what,” Ms. Kalmeijer said.
Mr. Kalmeijer agreed, noting that it will probably be challenging the next time he checks in at the Brussels airport.
“On the other side, it is what it is. They’re not going to keep me from traveling or doing what I have to do. You can’t do that. You have to get on with things.”