Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Barcelona's controversial airport expansion project has currently been put on hold because of differences between Catalan authorities and Spain’s national government. But, if plans do go ahead, here's everything you need to know about a project that aims to transform Spain's second airport into a major international hub.

Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport's €1.7 billion planned expansion
Artists's render showing what El Prat's new satellite terminal will look like once completed. Image: Aena

€1.7 billion investment

Catalonia’s Generalitat and Spain’s national government agreed in August that the €1.7 billion figure proposed by the country’s airport operator AENA will be invested into the expansion of Josep Tarradellas El Prat, the Catalan capital’s main airport. 

The government led by Pedro Sánchez also announced it would invest €1.6 billion in Madrid’s Barajas Adolfo Suárez airport. 

These vast sums of money form part of the €140 billion Spain will receive from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund, meaning that they still need full approval by the European Commission (EC) to go ahead with the revamp.  

However, in mid-September Catalan leader Pere Aragonès and his government said they did not want the project to affect the nearby wetlands and La Ricarda Lagoon. This caused differences between Spain’s national government and the Catalan authorities, meaning that the expansion project has currently been put on hold. 

Major hub 

The expansion is a multifaceted project but the main aim is to transform Barcelona’s El Prat into a major airport hub for long-haul international flights, one that can compete with the likes of Dubai, Singapore or Heathrow. 

One of the key targets is to improve flight connections with America and Asia and for El Prat to become one of Europe’s main hubs connecting both continents.

As Catalan vicepresident Jordi Puigneró put it, El Prat should go from “being a low-cost airport to a value-added airport”. 

“One of the great problems that the Catalan economy has today is that when it comes to travel to other parts of the world, passengers very often have to make stopovers, so we lose competitiveness,” Puigneró argued about the lack of direct international flights to Barcelona. 

Aena has already invested €48 million in 2021 to readapt El Prat’s Terminal 1 for it to be able to house larger long-haul aircraft such as the Airbus A380.

In 2019, Barcelona-El Prat received 52.7 million passengers, only behind Madrid’s 61.7 million. 

If given the green light by the European Commission, El Prat’s expansion will begin in 2022.

Render showing what El Prat’s new satellite terminal will look like. Image: Aena

Connecting Catalan airports

El Prat’s planned expansion will bring with it high-speed rail connections to the region’s two other main airports: Reus (Tarragona) and Girona.

Once completed, it will reportedly take just 30 minutes by train to reach either airport from El Prat, a scheme which will boost flights leaving from these smaller airports whilst also decongesting air traffic at El Prat. 

Plenty of jobs 

According to the Spanish government, El Prat’s revamp will create 85,000 jobs directly and 365,000 indirectly.

It will also reportedly increase Catalonia’s GDP by 2.1 points.

‘The greenest in Europe’ 

During a radio interview following the agreement reached between both governments, Catalan vicepresident Jordi Puigneró proposed that Barcelona-El Prat become “the greenest airport in Europe”.

“New types of fuels will be released and we will be able to make decisions about what type of aircraft we want to land at El Prat,” Puigneró argued, adding that reducing the carbon intensity for mobility around the airport should also be a goal. 

“We must do everything possible so that this airport ends up being better than the one we have now.”

New satellite terminal and runway may not be so green 

One of the project’s main features, the construction of a satellite terminal to support the extension of El Prat’s third runway by 500 metres, will encroach on the protected space of La Ricarda.

Environmentalists and neighbouring municipalities oppose this expansion for the environmental impact and noise pollution it could cause, and there’s reason to believe this could be a stumbling block for a project that requires EU approval.  

People hold a banner reading “Protect the delta” during a demonstration against the construction of a third runway at the Barcelona airport in El Prat de Llobregat, near Barcelona, on June 12, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius has already warned that before the expansion “can go ahead, it’s necessary to address the existing deficiencies” in the Llobregat Delta, for which the EC has opened two infringement procedures against Spain.  

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau is also against the enlargement of a runway if it affects the protected area. 

Spain’s national government initially proposed to increase the runway and satellite terminal area by 1,091 hectares, but Aena has since announced only 45 hectares of La Ricarda would be used, in return promising to protect 280 hectares of the Llobregat Delta.

Aerial shot showing El Prat airport’s runways and airport next to the Llobregat Delta. Photo: unknown/Wikipedia

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What you should know if you’re travelling to Spain in December

The rules, the least busy travel times, the strikes, the free travel deals, what you can’t check in - here’s what you need to know if you’re travelling to Spain in December or at Christmas.

What you should know if you're travelling to Spain in December

December is a busy travel period with many foreigners leaving Spain to celebrate Christmas with their families back in their home countries and many others travelling to Spain for a holiday or to spend time with their loved ones here.

Airline strikes and an increase in passengers could make travelling this winter a little more challenging, but here’s everything to need to know, so you can be prepared. 

According to Spain’s airport operator Aena, the number of airline tickets sold for travel to Spain over the winter season is set to exceed the number in 2019-2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also, last winter saw the rise of the Omicron variant and some countries introduced new restrictions, so many foreign residents decided not to go back to see their families over the holidays. This means that this year could see more people wanting to return after several years of not having celebrated together with their families. 

Therefore, airports could be particularly busy this December, so make sure you leave plenty of time for getting through security and passport control.

There is still one important Covid travel rule in Spain

Although the majority of Spain’s domestic and travel Covid-19 restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022, one of the only rules that still remains in place is the obligation of wearing a face mask on public transport.

This includes aeroplanes, buses, trains, taxis and some ferries, but mask wearing isn’t compulsory at airports, ports or bus and train stations.

As things stand, the general rule is that cabin crew from all airlines have to tell passengers on planes bound to Spain that they have to wear masks.

If on the other hand the aircraft is flying out of Spain, the mask rules of the country which the plane is flying to apply, which in almost all cases means face coverings aren’t required.

Spain’s flagship airline Iberia has criticised the Spanish government’s ongoing mask requirement for passengers on planes bound to the country, stressing that it “doesn’t make any sense” and “it affects tourism”.

Although it is no longer compulsory to present a negative Covid-19 test to fly, Spanish health and airport authorities ask that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms avoid travel.

It is no longer necessary either for travellers to fill in health control forms before flying to Spain as was previously the case, and there are no bans or restrictions on non-EU or other specific countries.

Which are the least busy days for travelling to Spain in December?

According to flight search engine Skyscanner, which has analysed nine million searches for people looking to travel to Spain over the festive period, some of the quietest days to travel to Spain are from the 18th to the 23rd, with the 23rd being the least popular before Christmas.

If you’re wanting to fly to Spain after Christmas, however, you’ll find it even quieter on December 28th, as well as January 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th. You may find Spanish cities to be fairly busy however as December 6th and 8th are public holidays.

Conversely, the most popular days to travel are between December 12th and the 17th, so avoid those days if you want to avoid the crowds. 

Who is travelling to Spain this December? 

According to new data released by Spain’s Tourism Ministry, during the last month of the year, 7,066,101 people have booked seats, which implies a recovery of 97.4 percent compared to the same month of 2019. 

Forecasts for the early December holidays reveal that Italians, Germans and French are the main tourists who will be visiting Spain. During the puentes and public holidays on December 6th and 8th, Italians will make up the majority of tourists travelling to Spain (23 percent), followed by Germans (17 percent), French (16 percent), British (10 percent) and finally the Portuguese (6 percent).

Airline strikes

Several airline strikes have also been called for this winter, mainly involving low-cost airlines Vueling and Ryanair.

The Vueling strikes are due to take place on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and public holidays. They began on November 1st 2022 and will run right through the Christmas period to January 31st 2023.

Specifically, this means that those travelling on December 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th,10th and 11th may be affected by cancellations. 

Additional days that will be affected include December 24th, 31st and January 5th 2023, affecting those passengers who plan on travelling for Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Three Kings’ Day.

The workers are demanding a wage increase in line with the rise in prices due to inflation, as well as protesting over the precarious work conditions that have been experienced within the sector since even before the pandemic.  

Many passengers are currently being offered alternative flights, refunds or other compensation if their flights are cancelled. 

Ryanair baggage handlers and on-the-ground staff have also been striking and will continue to do so until January 7th, 2023.

It’s likely these airports will include Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Seville, however, it’s worth noting that Ryanair has said that it doesn’t expect this strike to cause that much disruption.

Bringing food and goods in from the UK and other non-EU countries

One of the advantages of going back to your home country for Christmas is not only to see your friends and family but also to stock up on treats and ingredients you’ve missed while living in Spain. Think mince pies, custard powder and Marmite for those going back to the UK.

But as this is the second Christmas since Brexit came into force, many may still not be totally aware of what they’re now allowed to bring to Spain from non-EU countries.

The EU’s strict rules mean that all imports of animal-derived products are not allowed. This means no Christmas puddings with suet, no British bacon and blocks and Wensleydale or Cheddar cheese to bring back with you.

If you want to know exactly what you can and can’t bring in this Christmas, read our detailed guide here

Bringing food from Spain into the UK, is a little easier as you’re still allowed to bring in EU products, so packets of jamón and Manchego cheese are ok to take.

Travel within Spain

Those who are planning on travelling within Spain this Christmas, either to visit friends and family or simply for the fun of travel should know that there are currently lots of travel discounts, particularly on trains.

Multi-journey tickets are currently free on Cercanías, Rodalies and Media Distancia trains and are worth paying the €10 or €20 deposit for if you’re going to be making the same journey several times during your trip.


For example, if you’re planning on spending the holiday in the small Catalan town of Sitges, but know that you’ll be making several trips to Barcelona during that time for sightseeing, shopping or eating out, then it could be worth it.

Unfortunately, the free tickets are not available on long-distance trains, but you can still get a bargain on these this winter as Spain’s new low-cost train operator Iryo recently launched.

This means that you can get tickets from Madrid to Barcelona as well as Valencia and Málaga for an average of €18 each.