Daily Mirror - Print Edition

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

07 May 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

  • 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 allegedly 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 destinationsw, were allegedly 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 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  from 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.     
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.       

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.