Schengen border checks cause delay for British passengers diverted to Malaga
Dozens of easyJet passengers with British passports were initially denied entry into Spain at the Gibraltar frontier on Tuesday morning after their flight was diverted to Malaga due to bad weather, though they were later allowed through after an issue arising from Schengen rules was resolved.
There were also issues for passengers arriving in Malaga on a Gibraltar-bound flight that was diverted to the Spanish airport on Tuesday evening, and who were initially refused permission to disembark by Spanish immigration officials.
The first problems arose early on Tuesday for easyJet passengers who were due to fly from the Rock but had to be bussed to Malaga when their plane was diverted due to strong winds.
Arrangements were made to transfer the passengers to Malaga but when they began crossing the border, many of them were refused entry after Spanish immigration officers questioned their boarding passes.
Under Schengen rules, non-EU nationals must be able to demonstrate how and when they will leave the Schengen territory.
But the boarding cards issued initially by the airline said their flight was from Gibraltar to Gatwick, resulting in non-resident British passport holders and non-EU nationals without a Schengen visa being turned back.
Authorities in Gibraltar liaised with the airline and their Spanish counterparts and new boarding cards showing Malaga as the exit airport were issued to passengers.
Armed with the new boarding cards, the passengers were finally allowed to cross into Spain and board their bus, albeit with significant delays.
The passengers arrived in Malaga shortly before 3.30pm, an hour later than when they should have landed in Gatwick.
“Some 90 passengers were affected,” a spokesperson for the Gibraltar Government said.
“The affected passengers were issued with replacement boarding cards, which served as confirmation that they were booked to board their diverted flight at Malaga airport.”
“This was accepted by the Spanish authorities as sufficient evidence and all were permitted entry to Spain for this purpose.”
“Passengers who were EU nationals, Schengen visa holders and Gibraltar red ID card holders were unaffected.”
“HM Government of Gibraltar has raised the matter with the relevant authorities.”
In a statement to the Chronicle, easyJet acknowledged the issues faced by some passengers after the flight was diverted due to “winds gusting outside the limits of the aircraft”.
“As the forecast was not set to improve, we arranged buses to transfer passengers on the return flight from Gibraltar to Malaga, where the return flight EZY8902 is operating from,” a spokesperson said.
“We are aware there was a delay at the border for one bus which has now been resolved and passengers continued to Malaga.”
“The safety and wellbeing of customers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority.”
“While this was outside of our control, we would like to apologise to passengers for any inconvenience caused as a result of the weather and delay.”
There were problems too for some passengers on the British Airways flight to Gibraltar on Tuesday evening, which was also diverted to Malaga.
On the ground there, British passengers heading to Gibraltar were initially told they would not be allowed off the plane and would have to return to the UK.
However swift intervention by the UK Government, through The Convent and the UK embassy in Madrid, and the Gibraltar Government allowed for the issue to be resolved.
Airport and border officials in Gibraltar also assisted by providing information and details of the situation as it unfolded.
“To be clear, British citizens do not require visas to enter the Schengen area for 90 days,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo on Twitter.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong in law.”
“We are pursuing the issues that have arisen today with the Spanish authorities at the highest levels.”
On Tuesday night, passengers flying to Edinburgh from Gibraltar also faced the prospect of having to fly from Malaga, where their flight had been diverted to.
But already, steps were being taken to avoid a repetition of the morning delays.
All the passengers on the easyJet flight to Edinburgh were issued with new boarding passes that stated their flight would depart from Malaga.
This enabled those with British passports to cross over the frontier into Spain unimpeded.
Among them was Oliver Kenny, who had already faced disruption inbound when his flight was diverted Malaga on his way to Gibraltar.
Despite the delays, Mr Kenny was upbeat and had an attitude of “it’s the weather and it cannot be helped”.
Also traveling on the same flight was Sean Curran who echoed Mr Kenny’s thoughts, especially in relation to airport staff and how helpful they have been.
But while the issues faced by the easyJet passengers were resolved relatively quickly, the incident was picked up by the GSD, which raised concerns going forward.
“The actions of the Spanish authorities have to be condemned in the strongest terms,” said GSD MP Damon Bossino.
“This incident is not good at various levels, primarily at a human [level] but also, potentially, diplomatic and economic level given the dependence Gibraltar has on a properly functioning airport.”
“It also smacks of the recent occasion when diplomatic correspondence, diverted by land through the Spanish frontier, was inexplicably held up at the Spanish side for a number of days.”
The GSD noted the Gibraltar Government’s explanation but asked for more detail as to why it arose and what steps had been taken with the Spanish Government to avoid a repetition in the future.
“Whether this is an unfortunate incident of the officers on the ground being over-zealous in performing their duties or a part of a diplomatic tightening of the screws, the fact is that there has been a huge inconvenience and disruption visited upon innocent passengers, one of whom was a four-month-old baby flying to London for heart treatment,” Mr Bossino said.
“This behaviour is depressingly outrageous and unacceptable and is a far cry from the confidence building mood music which should be a prelude to the agreement meant to usher in a period of shared prosperity.”