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Brexit: consequences for passengers

The uncertainty of traveling between two worlds without agreement.

Last Wednesday, the House of Commons rejected a Brexit without an agreement and yesterday the deputies decided to order the Government to request an extension to the EU.

What worries the most to the travel sector in this scenario of uncertainty and constant changes, is to know what will happen with passengers. According to an article published in Aggentravel magazine, a 77% of Spaniards affirm that they will travel to the United Kingdom with the same frequency; however, 29% of Spanish are concerned about the changes that the departure from the United Kingdom of Europe may mean.

The effects that Brexit will have for passengers who choose the plane as a means of transport for their journeys to / from and in the British Isles has been widely discussed in recent months and the different scenarios that we can find in a "no agreement" framework as in "yes agreement" scenario.

In general terms, and in relation to air travel of passangers, the points that will most affect citizens are: 

  • Customs
  • Visas o ETIAS
  • Passenger rights
  • Mobile 
  • Health Insurance 


What is possible to confirm today is that, most likely, passengers should invest more time in airport passport control (also on connecting flights). This circumstance does not go unnoticed by all the agents involved in the negotiations and it is considered that more time in customs could have a negative commercial impact for the sector.

Above all, flights with origin / destination United Kingdom could have direct implications for airlines operating nationwide. It is feared that, as a result of the time spent on passport control, the passenger experience will be significantly affected and that this circumstance will have a negative impact on demand.  these additional delays would inevitably increase the likelihood of setbacks (eg, flight connections).

Currently, two options for customs management are proposed at UK airports:


1. Passengers who do not belong to the United Kingdom will be dispatched as passengers who do not belong to the European Union are currently processed.


We must know that in the great majority of airports that manage a large volume of passengers, tail performance is evaluated, measured and special attention is paid to traffic peaks.

Currently, in the United Kingdom, this level of service includes the objective that, in line, 95% of the passengers of the European Union and residents are dispatched in 25 minutes.

In addition, the citizens of the European Economic Area, together with those of the United Kingdom, who arrive in the United Kingdom are currently processed through a dedicated channel on the United Kingdom border and, unless traveling with identity cards or with children, They can use e-Gates as part of this process.

This SLA (or Service Level Agreement) has an objective that 95% of passengers that do not belong to the EU or the United Kingdom, are dispatched (in queue) in 45 minutes.

What this first option would mean for European citizens is that the passenger has to suffer long lines of customs as the citizens from outside the EU have to do so right now.

The expected time for passport control has increased year after year at Heathrow. For example, according to media such as The Financial Times or The Independent, in the summer of 2018 in this same airport the wait for immigration outside the EU reached 2.5 hours and the 45-minute target was only met once in July 2018..

So applying this system to EU citizens does not seem practical since the passenger experience would be profoundly affected, and in addition, it would mean adding more traffic to an already inadequate clearance time.

2. Third Line


Another option open to UK airports to limit the damaging effects of stricter border control is to create a dedicated "third lane" for EU citizens.

While supporters of this option suggest that this will safeguard the passenger experience for EU citizens, officials from the UK Interior Ministry have warned that this would increase the tension of resources and waiting times.

However, and assuming that the United Kingdom will want to ensure the proper functioning of its customs, the option of creating a 'Third lane' may be the most likely option until a final outcome in the negotiations is achieved.

Visas or ETIAS 

Currently, citizens of the United Kingdom who wish to travel by land, sea or air to another state of the Schenguen space must only present their passport at the entrance to the country and may stay for unlimited periods.

The same applies to citizens of 61 countries who can travel to the Schengen area only with their passports; but with a time limit (usually 90 days)

El ETIAS is a European travel authorization system proposed by the EU that will be introduced in 2020, independently of Brexit. The system will have similar functionality to the United States visa exemption system with the objective of better controlling immigration to Europe. ETIAS will apply to all citizens of the 61 countries that currently do not require a visa to visit the EU.

There has been much speculation that one of the consequences of Brexit might be that it was necessary for EU citizens to require a visa to visit Britain and vice versa. However this seems unlikely. On page 31 of the Brexit White Paper the UK Government confirmed that "it will allow EU citizens to travel freely, without a visa for tourism and temporary commercial activity". But if that does not happen, the non-national citizens of the United Kingdom must also obtain a visa to visit the country, which will entail additional costs for our trip.

En el caso del peor escenario de falta de acuerdo, el requisito de visado recíproco para los ciudadanos de la UE y el Reino Unido podría aplicarse de inmediato ya que no habría un período de transición.

Most likely, if the Brexit negotiations continue, an agreement will be established to guarantee free travel in both directions between the United Kingdom and the EU. And, in this case, the United Kingdom could be added to the eligible ETIAS list, so UK citizens would be required to have a valid ETIAS to visit any country in the European Union.

Passenger rights

The European Regulation 261/2004 protects the rights of passengers in the event of a canceled or delayed flight. In the case of Brexit without agreement, it should also be discussed what coverage would be available for passengers departing from the United Kingdom. In any case, and at the expense of knowing the evolution of the situation, the British government has promised to respect the current regulation.



Having access to the internet, making calls or receiving messages to your mobile phone is subject to EU regulations. Although some mobile phone companies have announced that they will not change their services, it is recommended that you ask for information to your operator before traveling.


Health Insurance

One biggest concerns of Brexit is Health, currently the European Health Card has validity and coverage within the territories of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland where its benefits are limited to any medical treatment necessary during your stay in those countries (including care for a pregnancy and care for a chronic or pre-existing condition).

During the period of transition and until the definite exit from the United Kingdom, the benefits remain intact, however, according to Zurich insurance experts, the most likely scenario is that these rights will not be affected, but everything is still to be defined.


  • All services that "can be postponed" (such as dental treatments) will be excluded.
  • Treatments whose sole purpose is to be carried out in the United Kingdom without any justification.
  • Repatriation.
  • Private medicine treatments.
  • Rescues in mountains.

On the other hand, according to the director of the International Department of the Pharmaceutical Industry, the supply chain of essential medicines can suffer a significant impact due to its high level of regularization which can have a direct negative effect on the quality of health services, However, this has yet to be defined as well.

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