Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a travel issue. important – and what it means to you.
Aviation insiders sometimes and wrongly describe the CAA as Campaign Against Aviation. While I believe the Civil Aviation Authority can do much more to advance the interests of our passengers, on the most fundamental of all – safety – CAA has helped keep us safe for decades. .
But from what I’ve seen this week, the government can reasonably be accused of acting against the best interests of the UK airline industry with plans for Electronic Travel Authorization. (ETA). This online license will start to become mandatory (initially only for Qatari citizens) later this year. By the end of 2024, it will apply to all nationalities coming to the UK without a UK visa.
It seems reasonable for a country to seek information in advance about potential visitors; The European Union will roll out the Etias online program to do just that in the next few years (unless there are more delays). Etias will not apply to passengers changing planes at a European airport en route from one non-EU city to another.
Why should those who just want to catch a connecting flight by transferring gates at Paris CDG, Amsterdam or Frankfurt, and who won’t be crossing the EU border, have to deal with the extra hassle and expense?
The principle of immunity to local immigration rules has secured international aviation for decades: stay on the “airside” and you don’t need to worry about whether the officials at the transit airport will allow it. Did you pass the passport check or not.
However, the UK, which has proved increasingly different from the rational world, has become an exception in insisting that all connected travelers must obtain an ETA. The Home Office, which imposed the requirement, said: “Requiring transit passengers to have an ETA will make transit no longer a loophole in the future for people to take advantage of to avoid needing an ETA.”
That statement is mysterious. International to international transit at Heathrow has been deemed a loophole, allowing passengers to connect to apply for asylum in the UK. The government seeks to combat this by requiring certain nationalities to obtain a Direct Airport Transit Visa.
ETA’s request will be read by many travelers as “please change planes elsewhere”. Imagine someone from Bordeaux looking for a flight to Boston. They can change planes in Dublin, London or Paris (whatever you’ve read suggesting that Air France has dropped short domestic flights is wrong; there are seven flights a day from Bordeaux to the French capital) .
A potential tourist faced with a £10 claim and the hassle of filling out another online form, which can take up to three days to get a permit, is unlikely to choose Heathrow.
“Do nothing,” is one of many replies I have received since writing about the latest collision. “We had to get an Esta to change planes in the US.”
True – but that’s because transit lounges simply aren’t used in the US. Everyone must be legally acknowledged. The difference for the UK is that no Border Force official will check the ETA of connecting passengers; it will simply be down to the airline to make sure that anyone moving in to London has one.
The airline most likely to be affected is British Airways – many of the more than 25 million passengers transiting at Heathrow are using BA. Virgin Atlantic, which receives feeds from partners Air France, KLM and Delta, will also say goodbye to some customers.
More airlines will lose passengers from Heathrow: Terminal 2 has no major British airlines (except the mighty Loganair), but every day tens of thousands of passengers connect from Germany to Canada, India to the US and many other combinations. Loss of public transport traffic and those links seem less viable – so British travelers may face fewer choices and higher fares.
Airlines are keeping quiet, while Heathrow said: “Passengers in transit play a key role in supporting routes to many long-haul destinations that foster trade, tourism and investment opportunities. The government should ensure visa and border policies do not create any competitive disadvantage for the UK.”
I don’t believe the ministers are listening.