Charleroi Airport Revisited

After easyjet caused me to rethink my travel arrangements by cancelling the route from Liverpool to Brussels (Zaventem) I wrote a post about my first experience of travelling with Ryanair from Manchester to Charleroi (Brussels South) and onwards to Gare du Midi on a cold and damp Monday morning. I’ve now done this trip a few more times, at different times and days, so I thought I’d update you all and give a hopefully more rounded viewpoint on what it’s like to use this route. This is therefore Charleroi revisited.

 Getting from Brussels to Charleroi

There are basically two ways to do this for a reasonable cost.  You can either take the shuttle bus or take a train followed by the local bus from Charleroi to the airport.  The first option offers convenience, you catch the bus outside Gare du Midi station, and it takes you to the door into Departures at the airport and costs €13 one way. It takes about 45 minutes and is less complex than using the train from Midi to Charleroi and then the local bus, which would take about the same amouint of time.  This second option can be cheaper though, so if you are on a very tight budget or travelling in a larger group this could be the best option. You can get details of the trains here. So far each time I’ve used this bus and it’s been very good and pretty stress free other than getting on board.  I’ve had a couple of instances where there has been a big crowd of people waiting for the bus to arrive and there is a bit of jostling and general chaos as everyone tries to buy a ticket from the dirver, gert their luggage loaded and get onto the bus.  A few observations.

  • The buses don’t really seem to pay that much attention to the published timetable.  My impression is that the driver goes either when the bus is full or when there is nobody waiting to get on.  There is generally more than one bus at Midi station at a time, so this has so far not proven to cause any issues for me.
  • I’ve tried to book a ticket online, but wasn’t able to do it for travel on the same day.  I don’t know if this was a feature of the site, or if there was a specific issue that day, but I’ve just paid cash to the driver since then. 
  • There are notices on the bus that no change is given, so it’s wise to have exactly €13 to give to the driver. Saying that I have witnessed change being given, but better to be safe than sorry.

Flying out of Charleroi airport

The airport itself is pretty new, in fact the bus drives past the old one on the way from the motorway, a 50’s looking affair with the archetypal control tower etc, which now appears to be used by freight companies and flying schools.  It isn’t the biggest airport I’ve been in but neither is it the smallest by some margin.  I’ve only checked luggage into the hold once so far and that on the way back to Manchester so can’t comment on the baggage handling.

Saying that security is a fairly quick and painless process and the facilities are not bad at all.  The one time I did have checked luggage was probably the least enjoyable time I’ve used the airport, but possibly says more about Ryanair than it does about the airport.  Before Christmas I decided to take my bicycle bag back home, but without the bicycle because it was stolen, so I put some bits and pieces and extra clothes in there to take them home.  After a long wait to get to the check-in desk (only one open for each Ryanair flight as far as I could see), while the person in front had to go and pay €60 to get their boarding card as they’d forgotten to check in online (ouch).  I was immediately told that sporting goods needed to go to a different desk.  I was expecting this.  I explained that yes it was a bicycle bag, but no there was no bike inside.  I still had to go to the outsize luggage desk.  I had paid €35 in advance for 20kg hold baggage (the most I was allowed) but when weighed the bag was way over this. Cue lots of frantic juggling of stuff, wearing 2 jackets and getting as much as I could get away with into my hand luggage. Not an experience that I’m keen to repeat.  Judging by how many other people were frantically re-packing bags around me, the check-in staff seemed to be very zealous in enforcing the weight restrictions.

Once through security there is a small restaurant which is ok, and a ‘duty free’ shop, which has the usual chocolates/beers/perfume etc; it appears to be run by the same company as the one at the Zaventem airport and the prices seem pretty good.  Before Christmas I bought all of the chocolates for various people here, slightly cheaper than the chocolate shops I checked in the city.

Flying to the UK there is a separate departure lounge after passport control, but there is never a queue here.  All in all, with hand luggage only you can be sitting waiting for the gate to open within 5 minutes off the bus arriving without any issues.

Flying into Charleroi

Arriving in Charleroi is similarly painless in my experience so far.  Other than Ryanair never using an airbridge so you have to walk outside (which I believe is their standard practice), the whole thing is quick and easy, 10 minutes after getting off the plane you are out in front of the airport looking for the bus.  Once you come through the baggage reclaim area, and past customs (never seen anyone manning it yet) following the exit signs brings you out not far from the bus stop.  Turn to the right and you will see the ticket machines on the right hand side, there are 3 of them in a row before you get to a Fritery.  I have had a couple of issues with these ticket machines. Sometimes they are really slow, and appear that they have frozen and stopped working.  Sometimes they refuse to accept my ING card (but have always been fine with a VISA card).  There is quite often a queue for these machines, but the bus itself is usually there waiting.  I have seen it depart while people are still frantically trying to buy a ticket though.  This isn’t as bad as it sounds though really as they are scheduled every 20 minutes, and as for departing Gare du Midi there isn’t long to wait for the next one. There is also a manned ticket office further down past the chip stall.

On the actual drive back to Brussels I have so far not experienced any issues since I first wrote about it.  One thing to bear in mind though is that when you arrive back at Gare du Midi late on a Sunday evening it is very quiet and only a reduced service runs on the metro.

Do you have any experiences of using Charleroi airport, good or bad?  Please share.

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