Airlines are refusing documents that before Brexit had been valid proof of the Britons’ status as residents in Spain.
Their ordeal comes amid heightened travel restrictions due to a coronavirus variant that has been blamed for faster contagion in the U.K. 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 U.K.’s withdrawal from the bloc on Dec. 31.
But the travellers say British Airways and Iberia have been refusing to let them board for the past two days. The airlines, part of the IAG group, didn’t immediately respond to requests Sunday for comment from The Associated Press.
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 ($2,600) 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 U.K., Spain, like many other European nations, has banned all travel from the British isles except for Spanish citizens and U.K. citizens with residency rights.
Spain has been rolling out a new system to register permanent foreign residents called TIE but it’s suffering a backlog due to the high number of requests.
Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told AP that under the circumstances both proofs of application for the TIE and the “green certificate” for EU citizens is still valid to travel for British residents under the new health restrictions in place until Jan. 19.
“This should not be happening,” said the U.K. embassy in Spain said in a Facebook post. “The Spanish authorities have today re-confirmed that the green residency document will be accepted for travel to return to Spain, as stated in our travel advice.”
But Sam Dakin, a 32-year-old English-language teacher based in Barcelona for the last four years, and his partner, who has been in the Spanish city for 8 years, said they needed more assurances before they could rebook flights.
The couple had been blocked from flying Saturday morning despite carrying their certificate and then were refused boarding on another flight Saturday evening that British Airways had initially said they could take.
“Just because the government adviser said that we could travel, we don’t know whether that will happen when we turn up at the counters,” Dakin said. “We just don’t know where we’re going to get answers.”