Brexit Travel: Effects for British Business Travellers

March 29, 2019 — the day when the United Kingdom is scheduled to complete the Brexit process and exit the European Union — may seem far away but not when you consider all the complex negotiations involved as an entire region essentially divorces 27 countries.

There are still many details that need to be worked out and it will be a while before we understand all the ramifications of the UK’s separation from the EU, but one thing is clear: It will have a significant influence on business travel. That’s why in the coming months, we will examine through a series of Atlas articles how Britain’s monumental decision to leave the EU is shaping the corporate travel experience.

Getting authorisation

Currently, British citizens can move about anywhere in the EU freely. All they need to do is arrive at the airport or terminal, present a valid passport and off they go. However, that likely will change once Brexit goes into full effect, at which point the EU will consider Britain as “third country” status and its citizens will not have an automatic right of admission.

Furthermore, because of a new European initiative being developed to strengthen the EU’s external borders known as the European Travel Information Authorisation System (ETIAS), set to commence in 2020, British passport holders will have to obtain the proper authorisation before travelling to any of the EU member states. That will entail filling out an online application asking for personal data, including details about occupation, health and travel itinerary as well as any criminal history, and paying a €5 fee. Their information then will be compared to a host of security databases before a decision is made about whether they can gain entry.

Once granted, the authorisation will be valid for five years or until their passport expires, whichever comes first.

Passport rules

Don’t worry, you will not have to call Travisa™ or CIBT™ in a panic and get a passport expedited once March 29, 2019 rolls around and you realise you have a business trip to Germany the following week. Even if they do bear “European Union” on the cover, the passports British citizens have now were issued by their government and will remain valid until the document’s expiration — at which point, you can apply for a newly redesigned passport that’s expected to come in dark blue instead of the burgundy EU variety.

While you may be able to use the same passport post-Brexit, expect the power of that booklet to wane. For instance, you no longer will be able to use the “fast track” lanes for EU citizens at passport control and, thus, are more likely to endure longer delays at the airport.

Another change that will impact your travel experience: Currently, Brits travelling to other EU member states only must have a passport valid for the proposed duration of their stay. But once the ETIAS program is in place in 2020, travellers will have to ensure that there are at least three months extra before it is set to expire — or risk being turned away at border control.

There is also a proposed clause in ETIAS that a passport “issued more than 10 years before” may not be accepted. British passports have a validity of 10 years and nine months, which means some with up to nine months left on their travel document still could be rejected.

Travel costs

In the aftermath of the controversial vote to Brexit in 2016, the pound plummeted and it has continued to dip ever since, falling to nearly an eight-year low against the euro in August 2017.

While a weaker pound has been a boon for UK’s own tourism sector, Brits heading to other European countries and the United States do feel the pain of an ailing sterling. It’s impossible to say where the pound will be once the Brexit process is complete (even on the day of this writing it soared to a one-year high), but we do see that its lackluster performance overall is having a more immediate impact on corporate travel.

According to a report by Skift, business travel out of the UK was down 7 percent over the last quarter with companies seemingly less willing to fork out the extra money required to travel.

No matter how the pound fares post-Brexit, it’s likely you will have to pay more for your airline ticket, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to flying low-cost carriers (LLC) like easyJet™ and Ryanair™.

This is because the UK risks losing access to Europe’s internal “open skies” arrangement. Since 1997, any EU airline has been free to fly between any two points in Europe, something that enabled the no-frills airlines to grow to their present size and extend such steep discounts. With Britain leaving the EU, it’s now uncertain if the same arrangements will remain in place and if these airlines still will be able to continue operating freely between the UK and EU.

So far, it doesn’t look good. Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary — who vehemently opposed Brexit — said that unless an aviation deal is signed soon, it plans to ground flights between the UK and EU after Brexit. And easyJet, which is based in Britain, recently announced plans to open easyJet Europe in Vienna, Austria, to protect its European business.

One Brexit-related consequence that may wash away the bitter taste of higher airfares? It looks like for the first time in two decades British travellers will return from an EU country and won’t have to pay duty on cigarettes, wine and beer. The bad news? Since there will be limitations on how much can be purchased during one trip, you’ll have to forget about stocking up for your next big shindig.