April 24, 2024

Thousands of Brits unable to fly into Sicily while EU flights thrive

The latest travel casualty of the UK being outside the European Union’s Schengen area: flights to Catania in Sicily.

The airport, which is the main gateway to the island, closed on 16 July because of fire damage to a terminal building.

Operations resumed three days later – but only for flights within the EU’s Schengen Area. All such services are regarded as domestic, with neither passport control nor customs posts required. Therefore the amount of space and equipment required to house them is minimal.

But flights from the UK to Catania remain grounded. In common with other countries outside the European Union’s Schengen Area, all arriving and departing passengers must pass through passport control and, potentially, a customs check.

Since Brexit, passport inspections have become much more onerous. Passports are required to be examined for evidence of the traveller overstaying, and stamped.

In the case of Catania airport, there is no extra space for barriers and inspection posts.

Normally up to eight flights a day, mostly from the London airports, depart for Catania. There are also some services from Manchester.

Ryanair has switched its Catania services to other Sicilian airports. But the island’s other main airport, Palermo, is full, so British Airways, easyJet and Wizz Air are cancelling their flights from the UK.

While the UK was in the European Union but outside the Schengen Area, passports would still have had to be examined. As EU citizens, though, checks were swift – comprising only the border official ensuring the passport was valid and belonged to the traveller.

Today frontier staff are required to make more rigorous checks and stamp the passport on arrival and departure. The enhanced procedure requires more space and time at the terminal.

The Sicilian governor, Renato Schifan, indicated on Tuesday afternoon that the return to full normality will probably take place around 4 or 5 August. At that point, UK flights should resume.

The Independent estimates that as many as 50,000 British holidaymakers have been affected since the airport closed.

Catania airport normally takes around six flights a day from the UK – mostly from Gatwick but also from Luton, Stansted and Manchester.

According to the flight data specialist Cirium, in a normal peak summer week there are 64 one-way flights scheduled from UK airports to four airports in Sicily: Palermo, Catania, Comiso and Trapani.

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