Racism, body-shaming fly high with Air Belgium crew against SriLankan staff

  • Air Belgium (AB) planes are leased out by Sri Lankan (UL) Airlines and they are to operate with a mix of AB and UL crew to service routes covered by UL Airlines 
  • UL Pilots and crew were allegedly given only economy class seats while AB crew flew business class
  • AB Captain Phillippe Enneken allegedly called a UL Captain an ‘Asshole’
  • An AB Pilot allegedly body shamed an UL Pilot calling him ‘big fat captain’
  • UL staff allege that AB crew took away drinks and bites that were to be given to Passengers
  • UL pilots are compelled to seek other travel arrangements as they are allegedly not allowed on AB flights(though it is leased out by UL) incurring more costs to the airline
  • UL has initiated an investigation and statements obtained from UL crew members and pilots

A massive racism scandal has come to light after pilots and crew members of Sri Lankan Airlines lodged a strong complaint against an Air Belgium pilot and crew who were operating a UL Flight on April 30, after they were body-shamed and racially discriminated against, the Daily Mirror learns.

State-run Sri Lankan Airlines which is facing heavy losses, leased two aircraft from Air Belgium in December, to boost its fleet which is now being used to run the Frankfurt, Dhaka, Dubai, Paris and Chennai routes from Colombo.

According to the agreement, these destinations are operated by Air Belgium but have at least four crew members and pilots from Sri Lankan Airlines also on board along with pilots and crew members from Air Belgium.

On April 30, when UL 501, scheduled to fly from Colombo to Paris was on ground at the Bandaranaike International Airport, the Sri Lankan Airlines pilots who were expected to get onboard to be flown to other destinations, were informed at the check-in counter that they were not allocated seats in business class as only one seat was remaining in that sector.

According to sources, the norm is that when pilots are flown to other parts of the world to bring back their aircraft, they are allocated to be flown in business class. However, on April 30, when the SriLankan Airlines pilots then approached the aircraft after clearing immigration, they refused to get on board after it was alleged that the business class seats had already been occupied by passengers whom the Air Belgium crew had upgraded without notifying the SriLankan Airlines crew.

"It is assumed that these passengers may have been frequent flyers of Air Belgium or the Air Belgium crew had charged them without notifying SriLankan Airlines," a source familiar with the incident said.

When the pilots refused to get on board, it is alleged that the Air Belgium pilot who was operating UL 501, Captain Philippe Enneken subjected the pilots to racial abuse and said if they did not get on board within five minutes, the UL pilots would be offloaded.

It is also alleged that the Air Belgium pilot had ended up calling a SriLankan Airlines pilot an 'asshole' before storming back into the aircraft.

Furthermore, it is alleged that Captain Philippe then in a passenger announcement onboard had said that the flight was being delayed due to the delay by the SriLankan Airlines pilots especially by 'one big fat captain' who was making a fuss about the seating.

The SriLankan Airlines pilots, upon hearing such abuse had contacted the CEO of SriLankan Airlines and Head of Flight Operations.

In a video recording obtained by the Daily Mirror, Captain Phillipe is also heard telling the passengers, in a public announcement on board, that the law on board UL 501 would be Belgian Law because it is a Belgian aircraft. This announcement was made while the aircraft was in Colombo at the BIA.

"Anywhere in the world where we are, as long as it happens on this plane, it will remain Belgian law. We have to apply Belgian law, even though Sri Lankan laws are different. But being the captain, I am responsible for all of you and most importantly it is the Belgian laws onboard, and I have no other choice but to behave like this. I know it upsets some people," the Captain was heard saying.

Pilots who spoke to Daily Mirror on conditions of anonymity alleged that the Air Belgium crew had also on several instances been racist towards Sri Lankan passengers such as refusing to serve them tea and water on the long haul flights. The pilots also alleged that the crew were responsible for stealing the cashew, wine and champagne bottles on board.

It is now learnt that following these incidents, SriLankan Airlines has launched an investigation and statements have already been obtained by the SriLankan Airlines crew members and pilots.

In a statement released by the Airline Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka (ALPGSL), it said it extended its apologies to all passengers affected by the delay on flight UL501 on April 30th.

"This regrettable incident was due to actions taken by Captain Philippe Enneken of Air Belgium, who refused boarding to our SriLankan Airlines pilots and subjected them to racial abuse," the statement said.

The ALPGSL said it had already escalated this issue, reporting the misconduct and unacceptable behaviour of Captain Philippe to the relevant authorities and demanding immediate action.

The Daily Mirror learns following the growing friction between the pilots and crew members of Air Belgium and SriLankan Airlines, UL pilots were now travelling on other airlines to position themselves in long-haul destinations to bring back the UL aircraft. This cost has to be borne by SriLankan Airlines.

The Daily Mirror further learns that several of its pilots had objected to the decision by SriLankan Airlines to wet lease the two Air Belgium flights at a staggering cost of 6 million US dollars, as the routes being operated by Air Belgium did not generate that much income for SriLankan Airlines.

Wet lease

A wet lease is a leasing arrangement whereby one airline (the lessor) provides an aircraft, complete crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) to another airline or other type of business acting as a broker of air travel (the lessee), which pays by hours operated.

According to officials, the agreement between Air Belgium and Sri Lankan Airlines will end on May 15, and it is unsure if the agreement will be further extended.

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