MADRID – Blame COVID-19 travel restrictions or Brexit, but whatever the reason, some UK citizens trying to return home in several European countries this weekend have been banned from boarding.
The airlines rejected documents that provided valid evidence of British residents’ status in Spain, Italy and Germany prior to Brexit, despite Spanish authorities claiming the issue had been resolved by mid-Sunday.
Her ordeal took place amid tightened travel restrictions due to a coronavirus variant blamed for faster contagion in the UK, and underscores the bureaucratic complexity resulting from Britain’s exit from the 27-nation European Union.
Both the Spanish and UK authorities announced on Sunday that the green colored certificate of EU citizenship with a foreign identification number issued by Spain will still be available to UK nationals residing in Spain under bilateral rules after the UK left the bloc on December is valid. 31.
However, travelers say that British Airways and Iberia, which are part of the IAG group, have refused to let them on board for the past two days.
Iberia said in a statement late Sunday that a statement from the Spanish border police on Jan. 1 “caused some confusion” and later clarified. British Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Around 300,000 British citizens are registered as permanent residents in Spain, although many more had lived in the country full-time or part-time without official registration before Brexit.
Patricia Moody, a 69-year-old retiree who has resided in the southern Spanish city of Zurgena for nearly four years, was one of a group of at least nine people unable to board a BA / Iberia flight to Madrid from London’s Heathrow Airport on Saturday.
Moody said she and her husband, who she says need to see his doctor in Spain, spent £ 1,900 ($ 2,600) getting tested for the virus, traveling to the airport and getting new tickets after they are refused boarding. Her second attempt was also unsuccessful.
“During all the months of negotiations on Brexit, we were always assured that nothing would change for us,” she said. Speaking of the airlines and authorities in both countries, she added, “It’s terrible and we suffer from their incompetence.”
Following the discovery of the variant of coronavirus in the UK, many European nations banned all travel from the British Isles except for their own nationals and UK citizens with residency rights.
Travelers to Pisa, Italy and Berlin have reported similar obstacles on planes operated by Ryanair and Lufthansa, despite carrying documents that have been accepted by the Italian and German governments, respectively.
Matt Bristow, a spokesman for that country’s Association of British Residents in Germany, said: “This appears to be a case where staff at the UK airport do not know which documents to accept or apply the rules more strictly than the German border police. “
Spain has introduced a new system of registration of permanent foreign residents called TIE, but it is lagging behind due to the high number of requests. Authorities told AP that proof of TIE application and “green certificate” for EU citizens for UK residents will remain valid until January 19 under the new health restrictions.
“This shouldn’t happen,” said the British embassy in Spain in a Facebook post. “The Spanish authorities confirmed again today that the green residence document is accepted for returning to Spain, as stated in our travel advice.”
But Sam Dakin, a 32 year old English teacher who has lived in Barcelona for four years, and his partner who has been in the Spanish city for 8 years said they needed more security before they could rebook flights.
The couple had been banned from flying on Saturday morning despite the certificate and then refused to board another flight on Saturday evening that British Airways had originally announced.
“Just because the government adviser said we could travel doesn’t mean that when we show up at the counters, we don’t know if that will happen,” said Dakin. “We just don’t know where we’ll get answers.”
In a statement, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said there had been “an isolated communication problem with some airlines, affecting only a very small number of travelers” and that air traffic between the UK and Spain had been “normal” until mid-Sunday.