Ministers ‘ignored airport warnings’
As new checking regime causes crippling queues in Europe, airlines say they raised the alarm at Easter
MINISTERS were last night accused of ignoring warnings about passport chaos as the busiest week of the holiday season approaches, threatening to cause misery to thousands of British airline passengers.
Tourists are having to queue for up to four hours at passport control because airports in some EU countries have bungled the introduction of tougher security checks.
The delays continued yesterday with some flights half-empty as a result, and there were separate problems for British Airways passengers because of problems with its check-in computers. Airlines UK, the industry body for British-registered carriers, said it had written to the Department for Transport in May warning of trouble ahead.
But it was only yesterday that Lord Callanan, the aviation minister, called his counterparts in the worst-affected countries to demand action.
Airlines UK demanded that the Government use “whatever influence it can” within the EU to speed up checks for British passengers.
It urged ministers to remind their EU counterparts that the small print of the European regulation behind the enhanced checks allows for them to be suspended if they are causing “disproportionate” delays.
Michael O’leary, Ryanair chief executive, said he was “jumping up and down” in frustration at the disruption.
The agony for passengers was compounded when they were told yesterday they would not be compensated for missing flights if the passport checks made them late. EU regulations that force airlines to pay compensation for delayed or cancelled flights do not apply if the airlines are not directly responsible.
Travellers outside the Schengen free movement zone are being subjected to more detailed checks in the wake of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.
The worst queues are in Malaga, Majorca, Lisbon, Milan, Paris-orly, Lyon and Brussels, which have been accused of failing to recruit enough border guards or install sufficiently up-to-date computer systems to cope with the school holiday surge in tourism.
Airlines UK first flagged the problem following delays at Easter, when some EU countries started to implement the enhanced security, which is designed to prevent terrorists using EU passports to move through the Schengen zone, which does not include the UK.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said he wrote to Lord
Ahmad, who was then aviation minister, in May following “similar problems” but in June the Department for Transport replied, saying it was “encouraged” that the situation had calmed down.
Mr Alderslade added it was “up to the UK Government” to help the airline industry by putting pressure on EU member states to “resource their border operations properly”. He said: “This has failed to happen thus far and it is passengers and consumers, many of whom are from the UK, who are suffering as a consequence.”
Lord Callanan said he understood the frustration of holidaymakers and had spoken to his counterparts in Portugal, Spain and Italy “to urge them to do all they can to reduce queues and allow travellers to get on with their holidays”.
There could be worse news for passengers to come, as EU member states have until Oct 7 to implement the EU directive, meaning some airports are yet to impose the new restrictions. France’s interior ministry said it would put 100 more border control staff at both of Paris’s main airports. New passport checking systems were expected to “significantly reduce delays”, it said.
Mr O’leary said he could not understand why EU countries were imposing enhanced checks on British passengers flying back to the UK. He said: “If people are leaving your country, what the hell is the problem? They’re leaving. Why are you worried?”
In a separate development, British Airways passengers flying from airports including Heathrow, Gatwick and London City faced long queues as staff had to use manual check-in procedures because of a problem with the airline’s computerised system.
It came just two months after more than 670 BA flights were cancelled because of problems with its computer systems over the spring bank holiday.
BA said yesterday’s problem had been resolved by 9am and passengers were being checked in again as normal.