Since Britain left the European Union, tourists travelling from Spain to the UK and vice versa have to go through stricter passport checks and the air travel sector is complaining that this is causing long delays which are causing people to miss their flights, including those who are due to catch a connecting flight at a Spanish airport. One example is Madrid Barajas airport at Easter, when 3,000 tourists were unable to catch the flights they had booked.
The Asociación de Líneas Aéreas (ALA) airlines association says a large part of the problem is that not enough police officers have been assigned to passport control at Spain's busiest airports. It says there should be 902 police officers at Madrid Barajas but only 75% of the posts are covered, which is far below the 93% in 2019 and 2020, before the pandemic.
There appear to be many problems at Terminal 4 in Madrid, where Iberia operates its national and international flights. Sources at the airline say around 15,000 passengers have missed their flight since 1 March, and the situation cannot be allowed to continue in a country which relies so heavily on tourism and where 80% of visitors arrive by air.
The ALA says that since March, two out of every 1,000 passengers who are travelling to another country and are due to catch their connecting flight in Madrid have missed it because of chaos at passport control.
However, sources at the Ministry of the Interior have categorically denied that there are “significant delays” , and say additional police officers are assigned as necessary. They also say that a further 200 police will be on duty to check passports in the summer months, and claim that the figures provided by third parties have not been proven.
The airlines appear to disagree, saying that the longest delays are at the busiest airports in terms of tourism, such as Madrid, Malaga, Alicante, Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife Sur. They are asking the Ministry to make an exception this summer and allow passengers travelling to or from the UK to use the automatic e-gates to “keep them moving”.
The companies also point out that if passengers miss their connections because of delays at passport control, that is not their fault and they are not obliged to provide any compensation. They do, however, say that they put such passengers on other flights to avoid them being stranded at Spanish airports.
Iberia says that on Monday a flight to Buenos Aires was considerably delayed because over 100 passengers were stuck in the queue at passport control, and that they would normally offer people a seat on an alternative flight if they miss theirs completely.