Destination unknown: passengers on 'Cinderella flights' will breach the Brexit barrier

'British passengers will board flights as full EU citizens, but when they arrive they could be classed as third-country nationals subject to strict passport and customs controls'

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 28 August 2018 18:19
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Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, promises nothing will change for airline passengers after Brexit

Seven months before the UK is due to leave the European Union, The Independent has identified 10 “Cinderella flights”. These planes will depart from five British airports on the evening of 29 March 2019, while the UK is still a member of the EU.

But they will all arrive at their destinations after Brexit, which is due to take place at 11pm Greenwich Mean Time.

As the clocks strike midnight Central European Time, these flights will cease to be intra-EU services under the “open skies” agreement and become flights from outside the European Union.

Passengers with British passports will be full EU citizens when they board the flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Doncaster and Liverpool, but by the time they arrive they could be classed as “third country nationals” – with no automatic right of admission to the European Union and the prospect of strict customs checks.

First to touch down in the post-Brexit EU will be the British Airways flight from Heathrow to Athens. It leaves the UK’s busiest airport at 7.25pm, and is scheduled to arrive in the Greek capital at 1.05am local time (11.05pm GMT) – just five minutes after the Brexit deadline. The one-way fare is currently £253.

The next two post-Brexit arrivals are both due in at 11.30pm UK time: SAS Scandinavian Airlines from Heathrow to Stockholm, and Wizz Air from Luton to its Budapest base.

The warmest welcome, in terms of temperature at least, is likely to be in Malta, where an Airbus belonging to Air Malta arrives from Heathrow at 11.40pm GMT.

The authorities at Gdansk in Poland will be ready for an arrival from Luton, followed by another less than half an hour later from Liverpool.

The most unlikely pairing is Doncaster in South Yorkshire to Wroclaw in southwest Poland, due to arrive at 12.20am British time.

Gatwick’s only appearance is the Wizz Air flight to Bucharest, which ties for arrival with the same airline’s trip from Luton to Vilnius.

The 10-flight manifest ends as it began, with a Heathrow-Athens flight – this one operated by the Greek airline, Aegean, due in at 1.50am GMT.

One other departure could prove difficult for passengers. Vueling flight VY7821 from Gatwick to Barcelona is due to arrive in the Catalan capital on the stroke of midnight, local time.

If the flight is on time, UK travellers on board will be European Union passport holders as the Airbus draws up to the gate, but non-EU citizens as they disembark.

Data on the past week’s operations show that the late-night flight to Barcelona arrived on time only once, suggesting the odds are it will be another “Cinderella flight”.

Both British Airways and Vueling are part of IAG. A spokesperson for the group said: “We’re confident that a comprehensive air transport agreement between the EU and the UK will be reached.

“It’s in the UK and Europe’s interest to have a fully liberalised aviation agreement.”

But Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, is currently warning investors of a “distinct possibility” that flights between the UK and the EU could be grounded from the moment of Brexit “for an unknown period of time”.

The government’s line is that, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, aviation will continue as normal between the UK and EU – even though there is no legal basis at present for that to happen.

Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, does not appear in the flights list because it has yet to release its schedules for the post-Brexit era. The first such flights are due to go on sale on 20 September. It is likely that easyJet will schedule a number of “Cinderella flights” from UK airports to destinations including Berlin, Palma, Rome and Vienna.

The number of inbound flights that straddle the Brexit departure time is also likely to rise.

Currently The Independent has identified six such flights which leave European Union airports while the UK is still an EU member, but which touch down at British airports after 11pm on 29 March.

Before these flights touch down, the “blue channel” for arrivals from Europe will presumably be closed. Arriving passengers will face strict limits on the amount of goods, particularly alcohol and tobacco, they can bring in.

A government spokesperson said: “We will use the opportunity presented by Brexit to take back control of our borders and strengthen border security.

“We are considering a range of options for the future immigration system and will set out more details later this year.”

At Manchester, Jet2 has an inbound arrival from Faro at 11.30pm, and Thomas Cook’s flight from Tenerife lands at 1.30am.

To Gatwick, British Airways will fly in from Faro in Portugal, while TUI has an arrival from Paphos in Cyprus.

Ryanair has two flights: one from Tenerife to Stansted, arriving at 11.55pm, and the other from Shannon in the west of Ireland to Manchester, due in at 11.25pm. While the UK plans to maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, there is no certainty that the EU wil permit it to continue. Therefore passengers from Ireland may face identity checks on arrival.

All the “Cinderella flights” identified by The Independent are to and from English airports, though some from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may be scheduled nearer the time.

“Cinderella flights” in order of arrival at overseas destinations on 29/30 March 2019 (all times GMT)

1 Heathrow-Athens, British Airways, 11.05pm

2 = Heathrow-Stockholm, SAS, 11.30pm

2 = Luton-Budapest, Wizz Air, 11.30pm

4 Heathrow-Malta, Air Malta, 11.40pm

5 Luton-Gdansk, Wizz Air, 11.45pm

6 Liverpool-Gdansk, Wizz Air, 12.10am

7 Doncaster-Wroclaw, Wizz Air, 12.20am

8 = Gatwick-Bucharest, Wizz Air, 12.55am

8 = Luton-Vilnius, Wizz Air, 12.55am

10 Heathrow-Athens, Aegean, 1.50am

Source: research by The Independent using online data from airlines’ websites

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