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Brits through e-gates and more border guards: How Spain is tackling airport chaos

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Brits through e-gates and more border guards: How Spain is tackling airport chaos
Spain’s Interior Ministry has been willing to act relatively quickly to address the bottlenecks that are occurring at Spanish airports. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Spain’s Interior Ministry is planning ahead for what looks to be a chaotic summer for travellers in Europe by introducing two measures which could ensure a faster flow of passengers through passport control.


In April 2022, Spain managed to recover 85 percent of the international tourists it received during the same month in 2019, as the country hopes to slowly edge towards the record 83.7 million holidaymakers it received in the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

But just like is happening across much of Europe, it’s already been a case of too much too soon for Spain’s travel machine to cope, and peak holiday season is yet to begin. 

Although the wave of flight cancellations by Lufthansa, TUI, Easyjet, Eurowings and other airlines is logically affecting many Spain-bound passengers, the Iberian nation has been facing its own particular set of travel hiccups.


On Monday, Spanish flagship carrier Iberia reported that an estimated 15,000 passengers have missed their flight connections at Madrid’s Barajas airport since March as a result of huge queues at passport control, a situation that’s being replicated across other Spanish airports in popular tourist spots. 

It’s due to a combination of the huge spike in demand from holidaymakers, Spain’s eased Covid-19 restrictions and a lack of airport staff following months of cutbacks, along with one other crucial factor that is believed to be at the centre of the huge agglomerations in Spain.  

British holidaymakers, historically the main tourism market for Spain (18 million visited Spain in 2019), are no longer EU nationals and consequently passport controls are more stringent and take longer as they are carried out by police officers.

Despite the fact that Brexit granted UK holidaymakers this new third-country status in 2021, it’s only now in 2022 that the travel consequences of it are being felt as tourism starts to really take off after the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result, a common scene at Spain’s main airports in recent weeks has been huge crowds of travellers (many of them British) queuing for extended periods of time in order to get their passport stamped, rather than swiftly scanning them via airport e-gates.

Fortunately, Spain’s Interior Ministry has been willing to act relatively quickly to address the bottlenecks that are occurring, with two measures which should lead to fewer holdups.


More border officials 

The ministry headed by Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced this week it will deploy an extra 500 border guards at the country’s 12 busiest airports over the course of June 2022.

These are Alicante, Barcelona, Bilbao, Girona, Gran Canaria, Ibiza, Lanzarote, Madrid, Málaga, Mallorca, Menorca, Valencia, Fuerteventura, Sevilla and Tenerife Sur.

That takes the total number of police officers specialising in migration up 1,725 at these 12 airports with the highest volumes of air traffic, around 300 more than in 2019.

Of the 500 new border guards across Spain, 189 will be deployed at Madrid’s busy Barajas airport (600 total now), whereas Barcelona’s El Prat will receive an extra 90.

This should benefit all non-EU/Schengen travellers, from Americans to Indians, in a workforce increase that’s been labelled as permanent and not just for the summer season. 

The EU's e-gates automatically determine passengers' eligibility for border crossing. (Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP)

British tourists can use EU e-gates

Spain’s Interior Ministry has also confirmed that British citizens will be able to use the Automated Border Control eGates at the same airports where more border officials will be deployed (listed above).

In practice, this will mean that just like other EU/Schengen nationals, Britons will be able to scan their biometric passports as they could before Brexit came into force.  

However, according to some reports they may still have to have their passports stamped at separate Brit-specific manned posts that have been created at some airports in Spain.

Fewer British tourists ‘clogging up’ non-EU passport controls should be beneficial to all third-country nationals, travel authorities have reasoned.

Spain therefore follows the example of Portugal, which introduced the measure in April, and has listened to the advice of Spain’s Airlines Association (ALA), whose president Javier Gándara recently pointed out “this will be the first summer with the requirement to check UK passports and the first period of normalised air traffic after the British Government eliminated all Covid restrictions”.

The Spanish Interior Ministry argued it had already requested that the European Commission allow British nationals to use eGates in Spain long before the recently experienced problems.

So far this year, Spain has received upwards of 6.5 million UK holidaymakers, more than any other nationality.


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