The UK government has warned that a Brexit ‘no-deal’ could leave flights between the UK and the EU grounded. This follows months of reassurances that the aviation industry should not be worried.
Clearly, we should be worried. Although a no-deal scenario is a worst case outcome, after talks fell apart last week and Prime Minister May endured her worst setback yet, it’s clear we need to consider this a possibility.
In what’s been dubbed the ‘Salzburg Disaster’, Mrs May was ‘ambushed’ at the end of the summit in Austria. EU leaders led by Tusk and Macron flung her Chequers plan back at her in tatters. Coming home humiliated, it’s a case of back to the drawing board for the Brexiteers.
So, what could a breakdown in negotiations really mean flying in Europe after Brexit? Here’s what you need to know about Brexit and flying.
Will flights be disrupted?
Brexit flight disruption is a real possibility, with the Government warning that paperwork could be about to get a whole lot more complicated. If no agreement is reached between the UK and the EU, airlines will need to get individual permission to operate on routes between the UK and the bloc.
The government document says that the UK would ‘envisage’ allowing airlines from the EU to continue post Brexit and that they ‘would expect’ the EU to do the same. That’s not particularly comforting for those with travel plans post 29th March 2019.
However, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said that, A scenario in which the UK leaves the EU without agreement remains unlikely given the mutual interests of the UK and EU in securing a negotiated outcome.”
Abta boss, Mark Tanzer, also believes that an agreement will be reached even in the event of a no-deal situation. He said of Brexit and flying that, “Even in a no‑deal scenario the government anticipates flights with the EU will continue”.
Other industry leaders have responded positively to the government’s report too, including the CEO of Airlines UK, CEO of the Airport Operators Association and boss of Thomas Cook Airlines.
Will air fares rise after Brexit?
It’s almost certain that operating airlines between the UK and the EU will become more expensive, and it’s unlikely that carriers will be able to soak up those costs themselves.
The proliferation of budget fights has, in part, been enabled by the removal of restrictions on air service agreements by the EU. The open competition in place on inter-EU routes has driven down airfares, but there is a chance that all that could be coming to an end.
The closure of the ‘open skies’ regime means new agreements will need to be put in place by individual carriers. The wide choice of routes and low airfares from the UK will be dependant on the outcome of those negotiations.
Will we need visas to travel to Europe?
At this stage, it is not planned that visas will be required. We will, as we do now, need to pass through passport control upon entry, and will likely be funnelled into the queue for non-EU nationals, which would mean a longer wait.
In the longer term, however, if Brexit triggers a wider and more radical breakup of the bloc, it could result in the removal of the Schengen agreement which currently permits borderless transitions between European countries.
What about trips already booked?
Many airlines are already selling UK-EU tickets for the post Brexit time period. This is despite the notion that flying in Europe after Brexit could be difficult. It seems more industry leaders are pretty optimistic that a deal will be reached, although not everyone shares the same viewpoint.
Michael O’Leary, boss of budget airline Ryanair, has already spoken out about concerns over a no-deal situation. He says his airline are already selling tickets for flights which ‘may not take place’. He condemned the potential Brexit flight disruption, and the knock on effect it would have on businesses like his.
“There is a rising risk, if the deal is not done by about November then, frankly, it will not get done at all. Doing a deal is going to be very difficult.” He said.
“From my narrow perspective all I want to see is a continuation of open skies and free flights, cheap flights.”
We couldn’t agree more Michael.
What if you’re in the air on Brexit day?
Of course, with flights between the UK and the EU taking place 24 hours a day, there are a number of trips which will effectively bridge the deadline when Brexit will happen. Departing from British airports on the evening of 29th March 2019, there are a number of flights which will touch down post Brexit deadline (23:00 GMT) leaving passengers (and airlines) in a kind of limbo.
Dubbed ‘Cinderella’ flights, the passengers on these planes will leave the UK as full EU citizens, but by the time they disembark, they could be classed as ‘third country nationals’ with no right of admission to countries in the European Union.
Some of the Cinderella flights are:
- British Airways: London Heathrow to Athens landing at 23:05 GMT
- SAS Scandinavian Airlines: London Heathrow to Stockholm landing at 23:30 GMT
- Wizz Air: Luton to Budapest landing at 23:30 GMT
- Air Malta: London Heathrow to Malta landing at 11:40 GMT
There are also five flights operated by Wizz Air from the UK to Eastern Europe, and a handful of other flights which, if delayed by more than a few minutes, could breach the Brexit barrier. Other airlines, including the UK’s easyJet, are yet to release their schedules for the Brexit date, so chances are numerous other Cinderella flights will pop up nearer the time.
What will happen to these flights and passengers in the event of a no-deal is still unclear. Spokesperson for IAG, of which British Airways are a member, 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.”
While confidence of a mitigating agreement in the event of a no-deal are high, the reality is we just don’t know. There is always the possibility that the EU will choose to make an example of the UK, closing down borders, trade and travel and leaving us stranded like the island we really are.