UK passengers flying to and from Europe are facing long queues at some airports due to tougher immigration checks. If you miss a flight there's little chance of compensation or a successful travel insurance claim but there are steps you can take to mitigate against problems.
Queues up to four hours long have been reported at airports including Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris-Orly, Milan and Brussels, due to changes at passport security which are affecting European arrivals and departures, and some transfers.
Thousands of flights also recently had to be delayed as EU border controls are "significantly understaffed" to comply with the tightened immigration checks, according to A4E (Airlines for Europe), Europe's largest airline lobby group.
What can passengers do?
The delays are not universal and depend on the airport, the time of day and the number of border control staff on duty. Malaga Airport, for example, is saying to contact your airline but as a rule of thumb says UK passengers need to arrive three hours before their flight, rather than the usual two.
- If you've booked your own travel – contact your airline and ask if it's recommending getting to the airport earlier.
- If you've booked a package holiday – check with your tour operator about potential delays.
If you're due to travel, leave plenty of time to get to the airport, ensure you know how long before your flight you must arrive, and factor in that it might take longer to get through immigration checks.
If you are delayed and worried you'll miss your flight, try to speak to airline staff at the airport as soon as possible. If you miss your flight, see if airline staff can help you.
If the worst happens and you don't make it to your destination, check if you can cancel any hotels or car hire you may not be able to use – though most usually require 24 hours' notice.
What are the airlines saying?
- Easyjet says passengers should check its Flight Tracker tool and website for the latest travel advice.
- Ryanair is advising passengers to arrive at least three hours before their flight and to get to the boarding gate 30 minutes before their scheduled departure. The firm's unlikely to be much help if you miss a flight as it says it's customers' responsibility to ensure they arrive on time.
- Thomas Cook says it's "not seeing an impact" but if the situation changes it will let customers know.
- British Airways says if passengers miss flights due to immigration queues then they would be rebooked on another flight free of charge. The airline says it currently isn't seeing major issues.
What's causing the delays?
The delays are due to the introduction of new EU regulations following the Paris and Brussels terror attacks.
These require entry and exit checks on passengers from countries outside the Schengen area – made up of 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border controls at their mutual borders.
The countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland.
Most EU member states are signed up to the Schengen agreement. But the UK and Ireland fall outside of the Schengen area, which means travellers from these countries are now subject to tighter passport checks.
Airports have until 7 October 2017 to comply with the new rules, with some yet to implement them, and so A4E is warning there could be more disruption on the way.
What do the tighter checks mean?
The new regulations mean passengers' details are checked against several databases – such as the Schengen information system and Interpol's record of stolen and lost travel documents.
So instead of UK passengers being waved through immigration when travelling to Europe, these tougher checks at passport control can take up to five minutes, and a lack of border control staff at immigration desks is contributing to lengthy delays for travellers.
Can I claim for flight delays?
If you're delayed by more than three hours or your flight's cancelled, under EU rule 261/2004 you're often entitled to between £110 and £520 in compensation.
However, passengers are unlikely to be able to claim for flight delays due to the security checks as they are outside of the airlines' control.
If you're delayed for other reasons see our Flight Delays guide for full information.
Can I claim on my travel insurance?
Trade body the Association of British Insurers says most travel insurance policies will cover some of the costs associated with delay and disruption, such as unused paid-for accommodation, for example. However, most policies specify a minimum length of delay before cover kicks in and this tends to be about 12 hours. The length of delays reported due to tighter security checks are up to four hours.
But if in doubt, check the small print of your policy and contact your insurance company directly to see if you're covered.