Min­is­ters ‘ig­nored air­port warn­ings’

As new check­ing regime causes crip­pling queues in Europe, air­lines say they raised the alarm at Easter

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner, Ben Farmer and Steven Swin­ford

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.

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