‘Such a nightmare’: Brits barred from boarding flights home to Italy amid travel chaos

'Such a nightmare': Brits barred from boarding flights home to Italy amid travel chaos
Photo: AFP
British residents of Italy trying to fly home after Christmas were prevented from boarding after airline staff said their paperwork was not valid for entry.

British nationals living in Italy and other EU countries have been barred from returning home amid confusion about post-Brexit rules and Italy's coronavirus entry ban on travellers from the UK.

People trying to return to Italy after their Christmas holidays were barred from flights over the weekend after being told by airline staff that their paperwork was not valid.
 
 
Dr Caitlin Procter, a British citizen who lives in Florence and works for the European University Institute, was among at least thirty people who were prevented from boarding Ryanair flights from Manchester to Italian airports on Saturday “because we didn’t have Italian passports or ID cards.” 

“They were not accepting residency certificates, proof of employment, utility bills or bank statements as evidence of Italian residence and an urgent need to travel home,” Procter told The Local.

“Ryanair is totally outsourced, so it was a handling company staffing the check-in desks, and they just said repeatedly there was nothing they could do, even when we showed them the official Italian guidelines, and FCDO (Foreign Office) guidelines on which documents are needed to return to Italy,” said Procter, who had planned to fly from Manchester to Pisa.

“They said that Ryanair have set up their own immigration team who are setting rules of which documents are and are not allowed, and they were only allowing passengers to board with Italian passports or ID cards.”

Italy restricted flights and entry from Britain on December 20th due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain identified in the UK.

It later made exceptions for those legally resident in Italy – whether or not they are Italian citizens – and those with essential reasons for travel, such as for work.

Britons keep their residency rights in Italy as long as they applied for residency before December 31st 2020, when Britain's transition period out of the EU ended.

“Some of the passengers didn’t have residency as their applications were still in process, but did have letters from their employers stating that they urgently needed to return to work, plus rental agreements, bank statements or utility bills,” Procter explained.

“Others had residency certificates but not ID cards, and these certificates were also not accepted.”

Ryanair confirmed to The Local on Monday that it requires passengers to show an Italian ID card, Italian passport or a “resident's ID card” – it was not clear what this referred to, but it may be the new EU-wide biometric residency card, which has only been available in Italy since January 1st.

However, the Italian government stated in its December 23rd ordinance that all residents of Italy are allowed to enter the country.

Italy's British residents cannot use their Italian ID cards for travel, and of course a passport does not prove residency, only citizenship.

Italy's British residents have been carrying other documents recommended by the British Embassy, including the 'WA attestazione' form or their Italian residency certificates, as proof of their rights, but these were not accepted by Ryanair.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Ryanair told The Local: “Ryanair fully complies with government restrictions.”

“A number of passengers on this flight from Manchester to Pisa (2 Jan) were denied boarding due to insufficient and/or incorrect documentation, as they failed to present a negative Covid test result or proof of residency in line with Italian government regulation.”

However, none of the official guidance from either the Italian or British authorities appears to mention the documents requested by Ryanair.

In its advice relating to Italy’s UK travel ban, the British government's website states:

“Until 15 January, entry into Italy from the UK is only permitted for those with official residency in Italy OR those with absolute necessity, which must be declared in writing. You should contact your travel provider for more information. If you are a UK national resident in Italy, we advise carrying proof of your residence when entering Italy.”

It did not specify which documents are needed as proof of residence.

The British Embassy in Rome referred The Local to the latest travel advice for Italy on the British government's website, which states:

“From 1 January 2021, UK nationals, resident in Italy by 31 December 2020, will need to show proof of residence when re-entering Italy. This could include an identity card, a registration certificate or a utility bill in your name.”

Britons living across Europe had been warned that if they travel over the New Year they would need to take proof of residency with them to ensure they would be allowed back in.

But since January 1st it appears that there has been confusion among airlines and local border officials in many countries.

In recent days there have been numerous reports of Britons travelling from the UK being unable to return to the countries where they live, including Spain, Germany and Sweden as well as Italy.

READ ALSO: Brits held at Gothenburg airport after being denied entry into Sweden

The issues have arisen in part due to countries imposing travel bans due to the new coronavirus strain, and in part due to Brexit, as the end of the transition period on December 31st brought an end to free movement for UK nationals.

Added to that is the fact the UK is now classed as a “third country” and so is now also subject to the EU's ban on non-essential travel.

British residents of Italy and other EU countries, however, have the right to return to their homes – subject to rules on Covid-19 tests and quarantine.

READ ALSO: 'We warned you': Call for urgent action after Britons living in EU denied entry

Until January 6th, Italy requires all arrivals from the UK to show a negative test result, taken no more than 48 hours before travel, as well as to undergo a second swab test on arrival in Italy, plus a 14-day period of mandatory quarantine.

“It has been such a nightmare, and so expensive with private Covid tests costing between £160 – £210 among the passengers I spoke to,” said Procter, who was supposed to return to work in Florence on Monday but is still in the UK.

“There are so few flights running, and now our original tests have expired, so we need to pay for another one before flying again.”

“Obviously all the passengers knew there were serious risks with travelling for Christmas, but everyone had personal reasons for needing to do so,” she said.

“The point is that we followed all the rules, and were travelling with documents that the Italian government said were eligible; and Ryanair were taking these decisions into their own hands.”

Campaign group British in Europe has called for urgent action and said it had been warning about likely complications.

“This is a serious situation when people face problems getting home although they have a clear right to do so,” the group said in a statement.

Have you been wrongly barred from travelling home to Italy? Please email us and let us know about your experience.


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