SHARE
COPY LINK

TRAVEL

‘Utter nightmare’: Brits barred from flights home to Germany amid travel chaos

British citizens who live in Germany are being wrongfully barred from fights, despite having negative coronavirus tests and documents which prove their residency status.

'Utter nightmare': Brits barred from flights home to Germany amid travel chaos
A traveller at Mainz Airport recently. Photo: DPA

Germany banned all flights from the UK on December 20th, along with more than 40 other countries, after a mutant strain of coronavirus led to a rapid rise in infections. 

The move effectively left many residents – including myself – stranded in the UK unsure of whether we would be able to return home.

Before Christmas, Germany said it would allow citizens and residents to return to the country from January 1st – the day after the Brexit transition period ended.  Britons who are non-resident in Germany are allowed to enter the country from January 6th onwards unless the travel ban is extended.

For many Brits who live in Germany it has been an expensive struggle to get back and we have had to navigate an obstacle course of testing and residency requirements, flight cancellations, “over-zealous” airline requirements, and issues at the German border.

READ ALSO: 'Everyone was panicking': Brits stranded in UK fear being unable to return to Germany

'I burst into tears'

Victoria Dobbie was due to fly from London Heathrow to Munich with British Airways (BA) on December 29th. Due to the restrictions her flight was initially “rebooked, cancelled, and rebooked again”. 

In the days before her new flight on January 3rd, Dobbie didn't receive any information from the airline about boarding requirements, despite calling several times and even driving an hour to Heathrow to talk to someone in person. “It was just impossible to get anything straight out of anybody,” she says.

Then, on the long drive back from Heathrow, her flight was cancelled at the last minute. Under the new rules, airlines had to apply for clearance to fly into Germany and all BA flights were cancelled on December 31st. Dobbie spent the evening “desperately calling” different airlines and eventually booked a new flight with Lufthansa. 

“I checked the requirements [given by the German authorities],” she says. “I had my Covid test. I had four forms of evidence proving I’m a German resident – I had my German health insurance card, my German rental contract, and my employment contract. I’m even an Austrian citizen and my Munich address is written in my Austrian passport.”

German Bundespolizei (federal police) have said that anyone who doesn’t yet have a residence document which many Britons in Germany do not yet have – or their Meldebescheinigung (Anmeldung registration document) can provide other documents as proof of residency, such as an employment or rental contract.

But when Dobbie was at the gate to board the plane she was turned away because she did not have her Anmeldung with her – despite having other valid documents. “I burst into tears,” she says.

“This whole past week has been an utter nightmare. I’ve spent £600 on flights hoping they wouldn’t get cancelled. Then my Lufthansa flight wasn’t cancelled but I got turned away at the gate. It’s the kind of story you couldn’t make up. It’s a running joke that we’re adding crisis management to our CV's.”

READ ALSO

A spokesperson from Lufthansa said the airline is aware that in “some seldom cases” there have been difficulties but that the “vast majority of travel by air from and to the UK is still running smoothly”. The Local has also contacted the German Embassy for comment. 

Photo: DPA

Turned away for not having a residence permit

Part of the problem is that airlines have been unclear about what they will ask for at the gate and many have asked for over and above what German authorities have said is required.

Joseph Broomfield, flying from London Gatwick to Berlin on January 1st, had his Anmeldung but was falsely told by EasyJet staff that he would be fined and turned away at the German border for not having a residence permit – despite the fact the majority of permits are only set to be issued in the coming months.

“The guy from EasyJet was certain that I wouldn’t be allowed through the gates when I landed,” he says. Broomfield knew the information was wrong and persuaded the staff to let him board, but still felt “uneasy”. “Loads of people were turned away and might not have known,” he says.

Elsewhere, people with Anmeldung documents have been taken aside and asked for German tax numbers, despite this not being asked for by Germany authorities.

READ ALSO: Brexit: What changes in Germany from January 2021?

Chloe Abrahams was asked for her German tax number. “I think [the Ryanair staff person] wasn't familiar with the Anmeldung. I overwhelmed the lady with paperwork, but the girl in front only had an Anmeldung and she was told she needed a tax number,” she says.

Abrahams was due to fly to Berlin on December 26th with BA. Her flight was also rebooked and then cancelled, so she booked a new flight from Stansted to Berlin with Ryanair on January 3rd.

“I feel traumatised, it's been such a weight on me,” she says. “The goalposts kept moving and that was the stressful thing.”

At airports many people have been left in tears after being turned away from flights for not having negative coronavirus tests, a requirement easily missed after Germany removed the option to take a test upon arrival at the end of December and many airlines failed to notify passengers about the change. 

'Lost in translation'

Matt Bristow, from British in Germany, says airlines have been over zealously applying the rules and turning away people due to residency concerns when countries themselves wouldn’t have.

He believes some rules could have been “lost in translation” and that people with valid residency documents should not be turned away. “I haven’t heard about people being turned away at the border. I think the issue is more at the UK end with airline staff not being clear on what is acceptable evidence or what that evidence means,” he says. 

Another issue, Bristow says, is residents having their passports stamped at the border. “I’ve had reports from Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf of people having their passports stamped,” he says. “Theoretically it sets a clock ticking to leave the Schengen zone within 90 days.” 

If you had your passport stamped – like me – your right to stay in Germany isn’t affected, Bristow says, but it could lead to questions when crossing the Schengen border in future. British in Germany are currently speaking to authorities and asking them to formally address this issue. 

Dobbie has since made it home safely on a different flight. Broomfield was not turned away at the border, as he had the right documents. Abrahams has also made it home. But this may just be the start of problems for Brits as the UK takes its first steps out of the EU.

“Obviously it's a Covid situation, but I feel like we've all been chess pieces in some sort of Brexit strategy that governments are playing against each other and we're stuck in the middle of it,” says Abrahams.

“I think, sadly, this is just the first example of people running into administrative problems [because of Brexit],” Bristow says.

Member comments

  1. I have a U.S. passport and German residency permit in the passport. They always stamp the passport when entering and leaving the EU. The stamp does not override the residency permit in any way. I’m not sure why Brits are concerned about the stamps if they already have a valid residency permit?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

BREXIT

How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

SHOW COMMENTS