Korina Huizar, a passenger on the flight from Atlanta to Brussels that landed amid explosions at the Brussels airport, called the experience “a big mix of emotions.”
Passengers were waiting on the plane after arriving for about an hour and half, and during that harrowing time they learned the explosions were a terrorist attack, then learned of the second attack struck a subway station in Brussels.
“That was scary for us, because we were still on the plane and not at a secure point yet,” said Huizar, a 28-year-old from Sacramento, Calif. “You just wonder, ‘What’s going on? Is it safe?’ You start thinking of everything.”
On the plane were a mix of passengers, including children and elderly travelers, she said.
“Some people were crying,” said Huizar, a professional cyclist originally from California who connected in Atlanta while returning from a race back to her home in Belgium.
“Everybody was on their phones trying to get into contact with their loved ones and trying to figure out what was going on,” Huizar said. “You just want to call people and tell them that you love them.” She tried several times to reach her husband before getting through.
She said Delta crew members did a good job of keeping travelers updated as they learned the nature of the explosions.
“I really have to commend them. The pilots even came out to talk to us and let us know everything they knew,” she said. “That was a big part of what made me feel safer. You had someone there talking to you.”
The experience started, Huizar said, after the plane landed normally at around 8 a.m. Just as the plane was getting ready to pull up to connect to the gate, “we were informed that we weren’t able to go to the gates,” she said.
“We were told there was an explosion inside, but the details weren’t known,” whether it was a kitchen explosion, an accident, “or worst-case scenario” — a terrorist attack, Huizar said.
A short time later, she said, came confirmation of two bombs. The plane was taken to a remote location, then passengers got off the plane and took a bus to a hangar where hundreds of passengers from arriving flights and departing flights that had been cancelled were being processed.
“Things were so chaotic… there was just a ton of security,” with a strong presence of police officers, she said.
After going through a customs check, Huizar said passengers were released to leave the airport. But because the airport was by then closed, with train service shut down, passengers had to walk off the airport premises. Huizar walked out of the airport at around noon and met up with her husband.
By afternoon she was safe at her home in Mechelen, between Brussels and Antwerp.
“Obviously things are a bit scarier in Brussels. However, I do feel safe here,” she said. “I feel like a lot of nations are feeling united through all of this.”
Huizar said she expects the terrorist attacks will affect passengers’ willingness to travel.
“I think you just hope it won’t,” Huizar said. “I know I will fly again and you just have to hope for the best.”
At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s international terminal Tuesday morning, travelers and those meeting friends and loved ones reacted to the news of the attacks at the Brussels airport.
“It’s kind of scary,” said Jo Bito, a Ph.D student at Georgia Tech who was seeing off his girlfriend on a flight to Japan on Tuesday morning.
Yvonne Spellman, who lives in Marietta and was leaving for a week-long vacation to Jamaica with her husband Tuesday, said upon hearing the news of the Brussels explosions: “It made me just kind of cringe.”
“I’m really very very concerned about it,” Spellman said. “I’m just gonna pray about it.”
Amanda Scruggs, who lives in Atlanta and was picking her sister up at the international terminal, was shocked by the news of the Brussels attacks.
“It definitely made me nervous, especially because I’m coming to the international portion of an airport,” said Scruggs, a Georgia State student. But, “I definitely know it won’t affect my willingness to travel. Living in fear gives that kind of attack more notoriety.”
Mark Sullivan, who said he is from Columbia, S.C. and retired from the military, expects “we’re going to see a lot more of it, because we’re very vulnerable.”