MADRID (AP) — Blame COVID-19 travel restrictions or Brexit but whatever the cause, some British citizens trying to return to their homes in several European countries this weekend have been barred from boarding flights.
Airlines refused documents that before Brexit had been valid proof of the Britons’ status as residents in Spain, Italy, and Germany, although Spanish authorities claimed that the issue had been resolved by mid-Sunday.
Their ordeal came amid heightened travel restrictions due to a coronavirus variant that has been blamed for faster contagion in the UK and highlights the bureaucratic complexities resulting from Britain’s departure from the 27-nation European Union.
Both Spanish and British authorities said Sunday that the green-coloured certificate of EU citizenship with a foreign national identification number issued by Spain is still valid for British citizens residing in Spain under the bilateral provisions that followed the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc on December 31.
But the travellers say British Airways and Iberia, which are part of the IAG group, have been refusing to let them board for the past two days.
Iberia said in a statement late Sunday that a communication from Spain’s border police on January 1 had created “some confusion” and that it was later clarified.
British Airways didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Around 300,000 British citizens are registered as permanent residents in Spain, although before Brexit, many more had been living full or part-time in the country without officially registering.
Patricia Moody, a 69-year-old retiree who has called the southern Spanish town of Zurgena home for nearly four years, was among a group of at least nine people unable to board a Madrid-bound BA/Iberia flight from London’s Heathrow Airport on Saturday.
Moody said she and her husband, who she says needs to see his doctor back in Spain, have spent 1,900 pounds on getting tested for the virus, travelling to the airport, and booking new tickets after they were refused boarding. Their second attempt was also futile.
“Throughout all the months of negotiating Brexit, we were always assured that nothing would change for us,” she said. Referring to the airlines and authorities in both countries, she added: “It’s horrendous and we are suffering because of their incompetence.”
Following the discovery of the coronavirus variant in the UK, many European nations have banned all travel from the British isles except for their own nationals and UK citizens with residency rights.
Travellers to Pisa, Italy, and Berlin have also reported similar hurdles in boarding planes operated by Ryanair and Lufthansa despite carrying documents that had been accepted by the Italian and German governments, respectively.