Brexit Puts Travelers on High Alert


The United Kingdom’s exit of the European Union has travelers on high alert. But do they need to be?

Experts say that Brexit will likely impact U.K. travelers more than U.S. travelers.

“The worst-case outcome has been taken off the table,” said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann and Co., an airline consulting firm, given that the U.S. and the U.K. reached an Open Skies deal late last year that will maintain their air connections.

The deadline for the U.K.’s exit from the European Union has been extended, once again—this time to Oct. 31. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation last week in response to failed efforts to broker an exit from the EU.

“Brexit is extraordinarily complicated for everyone involved including for the United States,” said Keith Glatz, vice president of international affairs for Airlines for America, which represents the airline industry.

It’s not an easy break-up but experts say U.S. business travelers won’t feel an immense impact from the separation, though those in the U.K. will. When the U.K. leaves the European Union, British citizens will likely encounter longer lines at border control.

But as of this month, e-gates at immigration in the U.K. are now available to U.S. citizens. Previously, only citizens from the U.K., EU, EEA, and Switzerland could get through the expedited process.

Gavin Landry, executive director of the Americas for VisitBritain, said that the number of U.S. visitors to the U.K. has increased and the number of flights has also had an uptick.

“If you are a U.S. business traveler, there are loads of flights available,” he said. “You will literally have a seamless experience.”

U.S. travelers still consider the U.K. a top destination spot for leisure and business travel. Last year, there were 3.9 million visits from the U.S. to the U.K., only a 0.8 percent decrease from the previous year. That was still a 12 percent increase from 2016, when Brexit was voted on. Spending has also increased among U.S. travelers.

The Association of British Travel Agents has advised travelers that all travel arrangements will remain as they are now until Oct. 31. However, it is uncertain what will happen after that date.

U.K. travelers will have access to state medical care in any EU country as long as they have an up-to-date European Health Insurance Card, the association said. U.K. travelers will not need an International Driving Permit or a Green Card for insurance if driving their own cars.

EU laws will continue to apply for UK citizens including those for airline compensation for delays and cancelations. Mobile phone can be used without additional charges.

For U.S. travelers, Glatz said Airlines for America has been working on arranging for an Open Skies agreement to remain intact.

“We have worked through the U.K. aviation agreement between our two countries that would preclude any disruption that might eventually occur depending on how the U.K. would exit the E.U. In other words, there should be no disruption in transatlantic travel for consumers, shippers, travelers–leisure or otherwise–regardless of how the U.K. leaves the E.U.”

When asked what will happen after Oct. 31, Glatz was less certain. “I think it’s too soon to speculate.  There are a lot of ands ifs and buts before we get to basic air transport regulations.”

“Planes will be able to fly,” he continued. “The governments are so very well aware of the importance of aviation.”

Mann said that other European carriers will have to step up their game as U.S. travelers to Europe could bypass the U.K. to get to their destinations. Flying through the U.K. has often been a lower cost option. But airlines have expressed concerns about the impact, though of late carriers such as Ryanair have negotiated arrangements to continue flights.

“There are some nuances there for customers who are using a U.K. airport as a connecting point on journeys to the E.U.,” he said. “It’s not exactly clear what’s going to happen there.”

 

Nancy Trejos is covering industry news for GBTA. She has been a journalist for more than two decades, covering various subjects and traveling all around the world. She was a business and leisure travel writer at USA TODAY from November 2012 to January 2019, writing about destinations, business travel, hotels, airlines, rental cars, and the sharing economy. Previously, she spent 13 years at The Washington Post covering travel, personal finance, education, and the war in Iraq. She is the author of the personal finance memoir "Hot Broke Messes: How to Have your Latte and Drink it Too." She has also worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press and was a contributor at Latina magazine. She graduated from Georgetown University and lives in New York City.

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