British residents returning to the Costa del Sol caught up in Covid-Brexit confusion

File photo of Malaga Airport.
File photo of Malaga Airport. / ÑITO SALAS
  • Some Britons were prevented from boarding flights heading from the UK to Malaga, among other airports in Spain, after airlines refused to accept the green EU certificates as proof of residency

The reality of Brexit and heightened restrictions due to the new variant of the Covid-19 virus, known as the “British variant”, has caused more chaos and distress for hundreds of Britons legally resident in Spain as they tried to return to the country after Christmas.

Airlines and passport control on both sides were either refusing boarding on flights from UK airports, or people were being deported back to the UK upon arrival in Spain.

Anne Hernandez, president of Brexpats in Spain, and those caught up in the chaos agreed that the message that Spain would allow residents with a green certificate or card, or people with proof that they were in the process of getting residency, hadn’t got through to airport and airline officials.

Clarification: green cards accepted

Spanish authorities and the British Embassy in Madrid were quick to respond to the problem and sent a communication to airlines and airports clarifying that anyone with a green residency certificate or card, or proof that they were in the process of applying for residency, would be able to return to Spain.

On Sunday the British embassy-run Brits in Spain Facebook page posted, "Having been in contact with the Spanish authorities over the weekend about the boarding problems faced by some UK [Nationals] wanting to return to their homes in Spain, pleased to share this important clarification from the Spanish Embassy in London. This clarification has also been shared with all the relevant airlines and ferries by the Spanish Embassy."

Malaga resident Stephen Meldrum was refused entry onto a BA flight to the Costa del Sol on Saturday after he was told, incorrectly, by BA check-in staff that his green residency card was no longer valid after 31 December. The BA manager on duty at the time told Meldrum that she understood that only Spanish passport holders were being allowed off a flight that had landed at Barcelona El Prat airport earlier that day and that Britons on board the flight had been sent back to the UK.

Meldrum returned to his UK home where he received a phone call from BA admitting to their mistake and offering him a flight the following day. However, his PCR result would have no longer been valid by Sunday. He is now hoping to fly tomorrow, Tuesday, with a new negative PCR result.

Fuengirola resident Penny Brown-Lee, who was travelling back from Bristol to Malaga on 1 January, was allowed to board her flight with her TIE card, negative PCR test and the Spanish Health Control Form, “no questions asked”.

New tests needed

However, her partner Jeff Isgrove, who only had a photocopy of his green residency card, was refused boarding and is staying at his son’s house and hoping he will be able to get a flight back on Friday. Like Meldrum, he will have to get a new Covid test, within the 72-hour window. Brown-Lee has had to courier all of his documents including his laminated residency card to the UK. “It’s touch and go,” Penny admitted. “We still don’t know if he’ll be able to fly on Friday as they’re saying they won’t accept laminated cards,” she said.

Anne Hernández said on Monday that although the problem "seems to have been semi sorted", it had been "a nightmare weekend trying to get these poor Brits back home".

The Brits in Spain Facebook page has provided regular updates and on Sunday posted clarification from the Spanish embassy in London, which they said had also been shared with all the relevant airlines and ferries.

The British government's website has also been updated with information about which documents are required and accepted as well as advice that the ban on entry into Spain for non-residents announced on 22 December. This was due to run out on 5 January, but has now been extended until 19 January.