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TRAIN TRAVEL

Travellers call for left-luggage offices at Spain’s train stations to reopen

Train passengers in Spain haven’t had a place to store their luggage at stations across the country since left-luggage offices were closed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many travellers are now questioning why they still haven’t reopened.

SPAIN-TRAINS-LEFT-LUGGAGE
Many train passengers in Spain can't understand why left-luggage offices haven't been reopened when it's long been known that Covid-19 is rarely spread through surfaces. (Photo by Geoffroy Van der Hasselt / AFP)

Having a place to store your luggage whilst travelling can save you a lot of hassle, be it because you’ve had to check out of your accommodation early and don’t want to lug your bags around, or because you’re only stopping in a Spanish city for a day visit before moving on to your next destination.

Train stations’ consignas, as left-luggage offices or checkrooms are known in Spain, closed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as a safety precaution when the spread of the virus wasn’t fully understood. 

However, more than two and a half years on and with the vast majority of Covid restrictions now lifted, this invaluable service has not been resumed by Adif, Spain’s state-owned railway infrastructure manager. 

From Madrid’s Atocha station to Valencia’s Joaquín Sorolla, Málaga’s María Zambrano or Seville’s Santa Justa, very few stations in Spain appear to have reopened their left-luggage offices, and there’s no sign that they will be doing so soon either.

As a result, many small businesses close to train stations – from florists to hostels or stationary shops – are capitalising on this gap in the market and offering travellers a place to store their luggage.

However, this is being done at the premium which in many cases is more than double Adif’s previous daily rate of €3.10 for a small bag, €3.60 for a medium-sized one and €5.20 for a large one. 

“Our left-luggage service can represent 15 percent of our monthly earnings,” bike rental business owner Marina told RTVE.

Over the past year, a number of disgruntled train users in Spain have taken to Twitter to question why Adif hasn’t reopened left-luggage offices when some of Spain’s airports (although not all) have done so, albeit late. 

In November 2021, even centre-right party Ciudadanos called on the Spanish government to reopen train station consignas,  arguing that a good part of travellers perceived their closure as “an excuse to eliminate services and reduce costs in a veiled manner”, when it was proven long ago that Covid-19 rarely spreads through surfaces.

According to a memo sent to Spain’s national broadcaster RTVE by Adif, the public railway manager “is evaluating the models implemented in Europe’s main stations and airports” and a “pilot project has been launched at Barcelona’s Sants station, where the management of this service has been opened up to a company specialised in this type of service”, called Excess Baggage Company.

In other words, when left-luggage offices do eventually reopen at stations across Spain they are likely to be privately run, and with it most likely an increase in prices.

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TRAVEL NEWS

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.

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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. 

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