Brits refused flight home to Spain after Brexit paperwork error

British residents of Spain trying to fly home on Saturday were stopped from boarding their flight to Madrid after airline staff said their residency documents were no longer valid.

Brits refused flight home to Spain after Brexit paperwork error
Illustration photo of Heathrow Airport, December 2020: AFP

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the joint BA/Iberia flight at Heathrow on Saturday evening because they were told their green residency papers were no longer valid.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.

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.”

It was not just the Madrid flight that was affected. Another person tweeted:

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Although journalist Max Duncan tweeted that some people's Covid tests are now no longer valid so they have to wait longer before returning to Spain.  

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.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: What Brits in Europe need to know about travel from January 2021




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TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

In welcome news for tourists and travellers in Spain, holidaymakers will be eligible to take advantage of Spain's 100% discounts on train travel later in the year.

TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

Tourists will be eligible for Spain’s free train ticket scheme that will be phased in later on this year, as confirmed to the Spanish press by sources in Spain’s Ministry of Transport this week.

“If a foreign tourist is a frequent user of the [train] network, he can make use of this subscription. If they want to complete the trips, they will not be asked for any type of card,” the source said.

Additionally, in further news of particular interest for British and American travellers, no differentiation will be made between tourists nor between EU and non-EU nationals for the discounts. Free train travel will be available to all tourists, regardless of where they’re from.

It is hoped that the free train travel will entice more visitors to Spain and continue the sector’s post-pandemic recovery, which for the first six months of the year exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) levels by 1.1 percent, according to figures from the association of Spanish tourism companies, Exceltur.

Tourism experts expect Spain to surpass the number of foreign visitors in the last four months of 2019 – over 20 million tourists – despite upwards inflationary pressures on the cost of flights and accommodation.

But like everything in life, there are terms and conditions. You won’t be able to waltz on any train in Spain for free, and it isn’t year-round.


This eye-catching travel discount will be available from September 1st to December 31st 2022, during which multi-journey train tickets on the trains outlined below will be free.

Free train travel

The 100 percent discount scheme, which will cost public coffers a reported €200 million, will only be valid on certain lines and comes amid a series of measures put in place by the government to try and ease the pain of rising inflation and prices, but also to lower pressures on fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: How much can you save on public transport in Spain with the new state discount?

“The government will subsidise 100 percent of the public service of commuter trains operated by Renfe. We hope that the autonomous communities can complement this enormous effort made by the Spanish government,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said when announcing the scheme in the Spanish Congress.

But which trains will be free, when, and how can you take advantage of them?

Which trains are free?

Unfortunately, the Spanish government has not given everyone in Spain free train travel on every route and on every type of train.

There are rules.

Simply put, local and commuter trains will be free. Cercanías, Rodalies (Catalonia), and Media Distance (local and medium-distance journeys) will be 100 percent free of charge.

The policy is aimed at encouraging the use of trains as opposed to other fossil fuel intensive forms of transport, and it’s valid for journeys up to 300km.

That in mind, trips on long-distance or high-speed trains, such as AVE and Alvia, are not included in the plan.

Neither will the routes in Avlo, the low-cost AVE option established in 2021, nor the medium and high-speed Avants.

Avlo and Avants will instead have a 50 percent discount on the original price, as outlined by the government in June.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer free train trips: when, where and how?

The Spanish government are yet to announce in detail how exactly the discounts will work, or how to apply for them.