Nine people were not allowed to board the joint BA/Iberia flight at Heathrow on Saturday evening because they were told their green residency papers were no longer valid.
Both the Spanish and British governments had previously stated that the old Foreign National Identification (NIE) document and the new Foreign ID Card (TIE) would still allow travel after Brexit.
British journalist and photographer Max Duncan was among the nine who were refused onto the flight and tweeted from the airport.
Brit residents of Spain distressed as can't fly home from @HeathrowAirport under #covid19 restrictions as @Iberia_en said their green residence certificate not valid post-#Brexit even tho Spain's @inclusiongob and @FCDOGovUK say it is. Need clarity https://t.co/dLWW0pMBFO pic.twitter.com/ZXAwmRHIAV
— Max Duncan (@maximduncan) January 2, 2021
Responding to Max, the British Embassy in Madrid tweeted: “This should not be happening, the Spanish authorities have reconfirmed again this evening that the green residency document will be valid for travel to return to Spain as stated in our travel advice.”
Hi Max, thanks for highlighting. This should not be happening, the Spanish authorities have reconfirmed again this evening that the green residency document will be valid for travel to return to Spain as stated in our travel advice.
— UK in Spain (@ukinspain) January 2, 2021
It was not just the Madrid flight that was affected. Another person tweeted:
@British_Airways – my daughter and her partner affected. Been in Heathrow for 12 hours – refused travel initial BA flight to Barcelona n then told could travel tonight so waited only to be refused as BA say passengers were returned from Barcelona – can any one confirm or help?
— daisyqueen (@daisyqueen6) January 2, 2021
Spain's foreign ministry later confirmed that “a very small number of travellers” were affected by “a specific communication problem with some airlines.”
“Once brought to the attention of the Spanish authorities, it was corrected immediately, and today (Sunday) air traffic between the United Kingdom and Spain flows normally,” added the spokeswoman.
Although journalist Max Duncan tweeted that some people's Covid tests are now no longer valid so they have to wait longer before returning to Spain.
A couple turned back from 10.55am @Iberia_en flight yesterday boarded the same flight today no problem. But those whose COVID tests are no longer valid have to wait for another negative test to travel. Now @inclusiongob @British_Airways @Iberia_en pls explain what went wrong
— Max Duncan (@maximduncan) January 3, 2021
The British embassy in Madrid updated their travel advice on their Facebook page on Saturday evening reaffirming that the green residency document will be accepted for travel to return to Spain.
It added it had also received many messages from UK residents in Spain who did not have either the green residency document or TIE card to return to Spain under current restrictions.
It said that the embassy had requested greater flexibility from the Spanish government for certain cases, including students, those who have started the residency process but have been unable to collect their TIE card and those caring for the elderly or other compassionate cases.
Spain restricted passenger travel from Britain on December 22 due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain identified in the UK, with exceptions for Spanish nationals and those legally resident in Spain.
Around 370,000 Brits are registered as living in Spain – more than in any other EU country and thousands more are believed to be settled in the country without ever having notified the authorities.
Britons can keep their residency rights in Spain, as long as they applied for residency before December 31, when Britain's transition period out of the EU ended.
The Spanish government announced last year that in the light of Brexit, British residents in Spain would be given a photo ID card that would replace the former residency paper carried by EU citizens.
Tens of thousands of Britons have registered for the new card and the application process appears to have gone smoothly. However, there are no available dates to collect the card because the system is so overloaded.