• Quote: ‘A key period for the tourism sector such as Christmas and with sights set on summer, it is imperative to improve passport controls, since the current situation is a major complaint of passengers, for airline operations and for the image of Spain abroad’

By Andrew Atkinson

With the Omicron coronavirus variant beginning to spread, the forecast if bumper passengers arrivals to Spain from the UK could be hit hard, with flights arriving in November and December seeing a large number of empty seats.

“The costs increase enormously by the time we arrived in Spain from the UK, with the Omicron variant measures in place now hitting the purse strings,” Mark Breedon told The Leader.

Mark and his wife Val, who have a holiday home in Los Montesinos flew into Alicante-Elche airport with about 50 passengers on board, they said.

Due to delays they also had to fork out another €40 for their car hire, due to arriving at the airport after midnight, through no fault of their own.

“Costs are increased with the Fit to Fly Antigen test introduced before you fly home in Spain, and the PCR test in England when you arrive back, then being forced into isolation until you get your results,” said Val, added to the insurance costs.

Another UK based couple who arrived at Alicante-Elche airport in December told The Leader: “The flight was almost empty – 20 to 30 passengers on board,” they said.

With flights taking to the sky once again after the coronovirus pandemic, hitting the industry since March 2020, it was forecast to be a bumper Christmas for Ryanair said chief Michael O’Leary a few months ago, as bookings began to soar.

But now with the Omicron coronavirus variant, delays have been at the forefront with tourism bosses calling on the Spanish Government this month to act, as queues and delays hit holidays.

Spain’s Airlines Association (ALA) urged the Ministry of the Interior to hire more border staff at Spanish airports.

Fears abound that the chaotic scenes at some airports will put British holidaymakers off visiting Spain.

The ALA said the opening up of Spain to key tourist markets, including the UK, had unleashed airport chaos that has led to thousands of passengers missing flights, in one case, due to a huge queue at Madrid airport.

Alicante-Elche airport

Other airports affected include Alicante-Elche. Malaga, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza and Gran Canaria.

ALA President Javier Gándara said: “The reopening of Spain to international tourism, added to other factors such as the new migratory measures with the United Kingdom after Brexit, are the causes of a significant saturation of controls in our country, requiring a longer time at the border.”

Since Brexit, British tourists need their passport stamped each time they enter and exit the Schengen Zone, including Spain.

British people are only allowed to visit Spain for 90 days out of every 180 as part of the mandate.

The new legislation has meant an increase in queues at Spanish border controls. Gándara said: “The congestion at airports is a great inconvenience to passengers, both national and international, in the form of delays or loss of flights or connections and an added difficulty for the operation of airlines, already complex due to the pandemic, projecting a terrible international image of Spain.

“Spain cannot now allow itself such congestion of its airports. At a key time for the tourism sector, such as Christmas, and with the sights set on summer, it is imperative to improve passport controls, since the current situation is unacceptable for passengers, for airline operations and for the image of Spain abroad.

“As we warned a few months ago, not adopting the appropriate measures has caused significant damage due to the reactivation of international tourism and the reopening of routes that were paused due to the pandemic, as was the case in the United States.”

The ALA’s comments were mirrored by hotel owners who said new coronavirus checks were causing delays.

President of the Ashotel group, Jorge Marichal said it wasn’t acceptable to have more than 200 people crammed into the arrival corridors which can be double this if two flights arrive at the same time.

According to the hoteliers there was no social distancing and passengers had to wait an hour in the queue.

Marichal said: “More than a year has passed since the reactivation of the mobility of people at airports and we continue to learn nothing.

“The first image that a passenger or tourist gets on their arrival in the Canary Islands is the airport.

“This control is the way to keep the disease at bay, but it is essential to properly equip these legal procedures with the necessary resources, in this case, personnel, or to modify the points in which the necessary documentation is required.

“These circumstances are inconceivable after everything we have experienced.”

Leaked documents show the UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid being urged to adopt more stringent measures as Christmas approaches as the threat from the Omicron variant persists.

The documents state that if Omicron continues to double at its current rate, there could be a million coronavirus cases by the end of December – warning new measures will be needed before Christmas.

“The key point is that, under a range of plausible scenarios, stringent action is needed on or before December 18, 2021 if doubling times stay at 2.5 days,” stated the document.

“Even if doubling times rise to around five days, stringent action is likely still needed in December,” added the document.

Restrictions have also brought in vaccine passports for large venues and nightclubs, along with the reinforcement of working from home in England.