British travelers returning to their homes in Spain wait to speak to airline staff after they were refused entry onto planes, at London’s Heathrow airport on Saturday Jan. 2, 2021. Dozens of British residents in Spain were refused travel because airlines refused to take in as proof of residency documents used until the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union at midnight on Dec. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Max Duncan)
MADRID — Blame covid-19 travel restrictions or Brexit, but whatever the cause, some British citizens trying to return to their homes in several European countries over the weekend were barred from boarding flights.
Airlines refused documents that before Brexit had been valid proof of the Britons’ status as residents of Spain, Italy and Germany, although Spanish authorities claimed the issue had been resolved by midday Sunday.
Their ordeal came amid heightened travel restrictions because of the coronavirus variant that has been blamed for faster contagion in the U.K. and highlights the bureaucratic complexities resulting from Britain’s departure from the 27-nation European Union.
Both Spanish and British authorities said Sunday that the green-colored certificate of EU citizenship with a foreign national identification number issued by Spain is still valid for British citizens residing in Spain under the bilateral provisions that came after the U.K.’s withdrawal from the bloc Thursday.
But the travelers say British Airways and Iberia, which are part of the IAG group, had been refusing to let them board for two days.
Iberia said in a statement late Sunday that a communication from Spain’s border police on Friday had created “some confusion” and that it was later clarified.
Around 300,000 British citizens are registered as permanent residents of Spain, although before Brexit many more had been living full or part time in the country without registering.
Patricia Moody, a 69-year-old retiree who has called the southern Spanish town of Zurgena home for nearly four years, was among a group of at least nine people unable to board a Madrid-bound BA/Iberia flight from London’s Heathrow Airport on Saturday.
Moody said she and her husband, who she says needed to see his doctor back in Spain, spent $2,600 on getting tested for the virus, traveling to the airport and booking new tickets after they were refused boarding. Their second attempt was also futile.
“Throughout all the months of negotiating Brexit, we were always assured that nothing would change for us,” she said.
Following the discovery of the coronavirus variant in the U.K., many European nations have banned all travel from the British isles except for their own nationals and U.K. citizens with residency rights.
Travelers to Pisa, Italy, and Berlin have reported similar hurdles in boarding planes operated by Ryanair and Lufthansa despite carrying documents that had been accepted by the Italian and German governments.
Information for this article was contributed by Geir Moulson of The Associated Press.