European border control checks are adding around one hour to average aircraft processing times

30 August, 2017

Air transport associations have sent an open letter to the European Council requesting the urgent need to resolve border control delays across Europe. The imposition of a new regulation on border control checks by the European Union (regulation 458/2017) has already caused chaos and significant delays to flights in Europe with the extra checks resulting on average in an extra 20 seconds processing time per passenger, meaning it can take an extra hour to process the passengers on a typical short-haul flight.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the European associations Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airlines Council International (ACI) Europe, European Regional Airlines (ERA) Association and Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE) have written to the European Council of Ministers to express its concerns over this issue demanding more resources are urgently needed to reduce delays.

"We support additional border checks if governments believe this improves the security of Europe's citizens. But we warned this needed more resources to prevent delays, and governments have failed to heed those warnings,” says Rafael Schvartzman, regional vice president, Europe at IATA.

The number of delayed flights due to border control issues is up 97% between April and June 2017 (compared to 2016), after the regulation entered into force, according to IATA. Furthermore, in June 2017, the contribution to the average delay time per delayed flight, due to border control issues, increased by 30%1 compared to 2016. “This is totally unacceptable. The answer is for more border control officers to be deployed, and more automatic gates to be operational," adds Mr Schvartzman.

The open letter to the EU Council of Ministers says the implementation of regulation EU 458/2017 regarding reinforcement of checks against relevant databases at external borders has been completed in a “chaotic” fashion and urges Member States to take “the necessary measures in order to minimise the inconvenience” caused to EU citizens and to preserve connectivity at EU hub airports.

With the traffic increase due to the holiday season, and in the absence of appropriate measures put in place by Member States, the implementation of enhanced border controls for EU citizens has “caused havoc” at a number of EU hub airports, say the air transport associations. The regulations were introduced in March 2017 in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks and demand both entry and exit checks against a series of databases on passengers from countries outside the 26-nation Schengen border-free zone. This is increasing even routine entry and exit checks to up to two minutes per passenger.

Member states are not actually obliged to check every non-Schengen passport until October, when regulation EU 2017/458 comes into full force, but several airports are already doing so and others are carrying out spot checks on selected flights.

An estimated 319 million passengers per year will be affected by the enhanced border control prescribed by Regulation 458/2017, almost half of all passengers travelling through EU airports. In some cases, these delays have caused up to 5% of passengers per day to miss their connecting flights, according to the associations. At Paris Orly, they say, the new measures have increased the waiting times at border control by up to an hour during around 40% of the days, in the previous months.

Airlines and airports are clearly doing their utmost to minimise the inconvenience to passengers. Travellers stuck at border control are actually considered “no-show passengers” and airlines have no obligation to support them should they miss a flight. However, most are attempting to re-book them to the next available flight at no cost to the passenger, though this is severely disrupting airports' and airlines' operations and is also exposing air carriers to undue passenger rights claims under EU Regulation 261/2004 due to the delays incurred on connecting flights.

The air transport associations say that over the past years, many airports in Europe have “suffered the effects of understaffing” for border controls. With the new requirements imposed on border authorities, this situation “is now unsustainable,” they claim, and is “impacting the attractiveness” of European hub airports.

“Our members have always been fully supportive of the EU's agenda to reinforce Schengen's external borders while safeguarding Schengen's free movement area. It is however essential that the adequate human resources are allocated and processes are implemented by Member States to minimise the impact on EU citizens, on the operational reality of the aviation industry and ultimately on the attractiveness of EU tourism,” they say in the letter.

British Airways has also called on the UK’s Border Force to tackle ‘serious inefficiencies’ that are causing both citizens and visitors to endure long delays when arriving at UK airports. In a submission to the Home Office, the airline raises concerns that Britons and visitors are facing long and frustrating queues to pass through immigration, with some having to wait more than an hour after some international flights. In response, the Home Office strongly disagrees and says the airline is misrepresenting the situation.