Travel after Brexit: What will it mean for airline passengers?

The freedom to fly anywhere in the European Union is what has brought the UK the best-value flights in Europe

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 04 March 2019 10:03
Brexit: Passports and visa rules explained

The UK is set to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.

Brexit has profound implications for travellers. This is the latest on what we know, what we think we know and what we still don’t know.

Next up: flights.

Could some flights between the UK and European Union be grounded in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

Unlikely. The latest announcement made on 27 February 2019 by the European Council appears to lift the threat that the number of flights by UK airlines could be “capped” at 2018 levels. So you can book with almost complete confidence.

“Almost” complete confidence…?

If the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, complex passport rules will immediately come into effect.

At present, airline ground staff need only check that a British passport is valid to allow the holder onboard a flight to the EU. But after a no-deal Brexit, they will need to scrutinise passport issue dates for every adult British traveller before they are allowed onboard. This might delay aircraft departing from UK airports.

Given the way that UK-EU flights are scheduled with tight turnarounds and little slack in the system, it is possible that some flights could be cancelled.

What if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

The air passengers’ rights rules stipulated by the European Union will remain exactly the same, whether or not there is a Brexit deal.

For all flights from the EU to the UK, and flights from the UK to the European Union by EU airlines (including Ryanair), current legislation applies.

For UK airlines flying to the European Union, the Civil Aviation Authority says: “Once the UK has left the EU, airlines would be required to meet their existing obligations.” So in the event of flight cancellation or severe delay, you will be entitled to meals, accommodation and an alternative flight home as necessary.

If you arrive at your destination three hours or more behind schedule, you will also be entitled to cash compensation of €250 or €400 (depending on distance) unless the airline can demonstrate the cause was “extraordinary circumstances”.

Will “overflights” to other destinations outside the EU be affected?

No. Whether the UK leaves with or without a deal, such flights will be unaffected. The right to fly over a country is governed by the 1944 Chicago Convention, which all EU nations have signed.

So everything will remain the same as it is now?

No. Compared with a baseline of what would prevail if the UK had never voted to leave the European Union, fares are rising and choice is falling.

The slump in the pound following the referendum has pushed up costs in sterling for fuel and aircraft leases, and easyJet has spent millions setting up an Austrian subsidiary. The negative impact on the UK economy means that airlines are placing their aircraft elsewhere. Ryanair is expanding from the UK this year, but at a significantly lower rate than elsewhere in Europe.

The impact will be intensified after Brexit. The UK is very keen for “open skies” to continue – after all, the freedom to fly anywhere in the European Union is what has brought the UK the best-value flights in Europe. But there is no certainty that the “EU27” will be content to allow British airlines unfettered competition against their own carriers after Brexit.

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Furthermore, as the exodus of EU workers continues, a number of routes may no longer be sustainable. In particular, links between the UK and eastern Europe depend on commuters from countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, as well as their friends and family. With fewer of them working in the UK, airlines may respond by cutting links.

Finally and possibly most importantly, the government’s stated policy is to remove the right for European Union citizens to visit the UK on a national ID card: “We intend to require all EU citizens to travel on a passport.” This is likely to deter millions of prospective leisure and business visitors, who do not require a passport to visit dozens of other countries and may not judge it worth obtaining one just to visit the UK.

Read more about travel after Brexit, and what it means for visas and passports, here.

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