Being in the EU has made it easy for Brits to reach Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Greek beaches and resorts cheaply and at the click of a finger. Airlines registered in the EU can fly between any destinations in the 28-member bloc thanks to the EU internal aviation market, but once Britain leaves the UK will be excluded from this, unless otherwise agreed.
EasyJet and Ryanair alone offer flights to hundreds of EU destinations daily from more than 35 British airports. But will it always be so easy? And what about things like healthcare rights for travellers?
More than 75% of holidays Brits take are to the European Union; of 70 million trips abroad made by people from the UK in 2015, 53 million were to other EU member states. Just over 12 million Brits travel to Spain and Portugal every year alone, according to data from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). And many millions of people from the rest of the EU make the journey in the opposite direction
But Brexit could mean more expensive travel tickets, fewer passenger rights and a spate of extra charges for Brits travelling to the EU.
Here is a quick look, in 10 brief points, at how the cost and logistics involved in a one-week holiday from the UK to Portugal might change after 2021, once the Brexit transition period is over.
1) Flights from the UK are slapped with added taxes and costs, which airlines in turn pass to their customers, making tickets more expensive. Indeed, with no Brexit aviation deal, UK airlines have lost their unfettered right to fly to EU destinations, meaning fewer options. When an aviation agreement wasn’t reached before Brexit some flights from the UK to the EU were grounded, Eurostar tickets shot up in price and Eurolines buses returned to fashion. You look everywhere for cheap fares, looking at routes via all four corners of the earth.
2) After negotiating a flight to Faro via Istanbul, you remember that last time you went on holiday you felt chronically ill after a long night at that funky caveman restaurant and you realize it might be a good idea to get some health insurance. After all, Brits were excluded from the EHIC system, which offers EU travellers health insurance across the EU in emergencies, amidst the final wranglings of negotiations in January 2019. The insurance costs you €11 p/head (premiums have risen of course in light of the EHIC cancellation).
“A valid European Health Insurance Card gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland,” stated the NHS website back in 2018.
3) You arrive at the airport well early as you are not sure of the new procedures. After all, it’s the world of Brexit now. You queue for 73 minutes and are eventually allowed to check in, although you are told the flight is delayed. You buy some expensive airport food to keep the kids happy while you wait for more information. Finally the airline staff inform you that your flight is cancelled. When you ask about your compensation, you are swiftly reminded that there is no obligation for British airlines, outside the EU, to pay compensation for cancelled flights from the UK to the EU. You realize you should have bought the more expensive ticket with Air France. You are given a meal voucher and a smile.
EU air passenger rights state: “If you were denied boarding, your flight was cancelled, you experienced a delay of more than 2 hours at departure or you arrive with a long delay at your final destination, the operating air carrier must give you a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance.”
4) You rebook. After a 14-hour journey via Tel Aviv to Faro, immigration officials spend a while perusing your and your family’s blue British passports as if they were relics of a forgotten era. They chuckle, gesticulate and make a joke about Brexit. Passengers in the EU citizens’ stream glide past you, their passports just glanced at, while you wait. Eventually you too are let in to Portugal.
5) Finally outside the airport, you decide it’s a good idea to call home and check that housesitting nephew hasn’t yet sold all your silverware. A quick call confirms he hasn’t, but a quick sms in Portuguese to your phone soon confirms that you just spent €14, 20 on the call. The EU abolished roaming charges in July 2017 for EU citizens travelling in the Union. You top up more phone credit.
6) You pick up your rented car (for once, no issues!) and head to the resort where you are booked in. You and your family settle into your rooms and discover, to your wallet’s delight, that there is wifi in the hotel. After an hour trying to remember your Skype password to login on your mobile, you top up credit and call the UK again. Just as you think your holiday has been a chore, your brother tells you that the company with whom he booked his package trip to Tunisia has gone bust. And they are offering zero compensation! The EU’s Package Travel Directive offers customers a spate of rights vis-a-vis cancellations and much more.
7) You realize you forgot to change any pounds at the airport. You card is also not working – you could call your bank to tell them you are travelling and risk another humongous charge, but instead you take a wad of pounds and head into town. You soon come across a bureau de change but find yourself embroiled in a discussion with the owner over the rate. “It can’t be 98 pennies to the euro,” you whimper. Last time you went to Europe you were getting over €1.20 for each pound. He’s cheating you, obviously, so you try six other bureau de change outlets. All with the same rate. You return to your hotel with less euro than the pounds you left with and instantly spend a healthy sum on a frozen margarita, then another three, to drown your sorrows. You call your nephew at 1.02am to tell him you love him and check he isn’t holding a rave. The bromance costs you another €22.35.
8) You return to the bureau de change sooner than expected.
9) On day five you travel to Loulé and are overwhelmed by the historic beauty. Your wife/husband buys souvenirs in every second boutique and an extra suitcase to carry the goods.
10) Exhausted at the end of your holiday, you arrive at Faro Airport with an extra suitcase, which your airline is happy to bill you extra for with a smile. At least some things haven’t changed since Brexit. Having spent most of the time queueing to pay for your luggage, you have no time left to scour bargains at Duty Free, which is once again open to Brits now the UK has left.
After another eight-hour trip, this time via Zurich, you trot through the Nothing to Declare exit at Stansted Airport. A customs officer approaches you and asks you to open your suitcases.
“Have you paid duty on these five bottles of port, Sir? And what about these lovely, ornate bowls, lampshades and rugs?”
You hang your head in shame. “This way please, Sir,” says the officer. You pay the 157 pounds import duty on your goods and head home. To find your nephew has spray painted “Uncle, you’re the best!” on the living room wall as a thank you note.