Spain’s flagship airline Iberia on Monday criticised the fact that thousands of passengers at Terminal 4 of Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport have not made their flight connections because they are being prevented from reaching their boarding gates in time.
In many cases, this has forced ongoing flights to be delayed, and many other planes have had to take off half empty.
Iberia has blamed the closure of e-gates at Barajas during key travel hours for the holdups, which are particularly affecting the airline’s flights to Buenos Aires, Chicago and Miami.
The Spanish carrier gave the example of a connecting flight bound for the Argentinian capital which on Monday was forced to take off without 100 booked passengers who were all trapped in the multitude at T4’s passport control area.
It’s a problem affecting not only Barajas but also airports in popular tourist spots such as those in Alicante, Málaga, Tenerife or Palma de Mallorca, according to Spain’s Airline Association (ALA).
The issue became evident over Holy Week when more than 3,000 passengers missed their flights at Madrid’s main airport, especially as a result of holdups at third-country nationals’ passport queues.
A spike in demand from holidaymakers, eased Covid-19 restrictions and a lack of airport staff following months of cutbacks are believed to be at the centre of the huge agglomerations in Spain and elsewhere across Europe.
Another key factor is that British holidaymakers, historically the main tourism market for Spain, are no longer EU nationals and consequently passport controls are more stringent for them and are carried out by police officers.
It’s only now after two years of slowed down travel that the prospect of catering for 18 million Brits again (2019 figures) whilst abiding by EU law is becoming a reality.
Portugal recently made headlines by becoming the first EU nation to fast-track British travellers despite their new third-country status, opening e-gates to them at airports in Faro, Lisbon, Porto and Madeira where they can scan their passports more swiftly.
Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan are also reported to be able to enjoy this travel perk in Portugal.
There is no official word yet from the Spanish government on whether Britons will be able to use e-gates at Spanish airports, which suggests they will not necessarily be willing to contravene EU/Schengen rules, at the very least until the new entry-exit EES system that will replace passport stamping with scanning is implemented (among other changes), most likely in early 2023.
So far, Spain’s Interior Ministry has “categorically” denied that the queues and delays reported by Iberia are at all “significant”.
By contrast, Spain’s Airlines Association (ALA) has called for more police officers to be deployed before the summer to prevent some of the travel chaos seen in recent weeks. An extra 200 border officials are expected to join Barajas airports before July.
For ALA’s president Javier Gándara, the solution Portugal has chosen is the easiest way to resolve many of the holdups, calling for UK nationals to be allowed to use e-gates at Spanish airports as an “exceptional measure”.
“Travel flow at our airports would be decongested and the queues that give our country such a bad image could be avoided,” he concluded.
More than 24 million flight passengers used Madrid’s Barajas airport in 2021. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, the figure was 62 million.
Spain is now hoping to recover as many as possible of the 83.7 million tourists that visited the country in 2019, the seventh consecutive year of record-beating numbers, which consolidated Spain as the second most visited country in the world after France.