Post-Brexit air travel: to book, or not to book?
February 8, 2019 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I will need to fly from the EU to the US in April. Is it a good idea to book my usual route, which includes a transit stop in the UK, or is it better to find a different route that avoids Britain entirely?

Travel would be in mid-April, on a non-British carrier (Norwegian, if it matters). There is also the option of waiting until after 29 March to book the flights, but I have no idea what the uncertainties will do to prices.

I've been finding a fair bit of conflicting information regarding this wrinkle of the post-29 March scenarios; everything from 'special provisions would be made to minimise impact on air travel' to NO TRAVELLING ANYWHERE to anything in between. I'd like to use my usual route if possible; it's significantly cheaper than all other options, and familiar to boot. But if it ends up meaning eating the cost of those tickets and having to re-book at a time when loads of others may be doing so as well, I'd start looking into alternate options.
posted by myotahapea to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
This article suggests that you will be ok, thanks to EU contingency measures as long as you don't fly a British airline. And, avoid IAG, which operates British Airways and Iberia as they are having the biggest compliance problems.

Btw, I fly Norwegian often. Is a flight to Copenhagen (or another Norwegian continental city) and then on to the US a lot more expensive? Just checking.
posted by vacapinta at 7:30 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Is a flight to Copenhagen (or another Norwegian continental city) and then on to the US a lot more expensive? Just checking.

Surprisingly, yes. Once I knew the dates I thought it would be rather trivial to use another transit point (the route is HEL -> ORD) but even the cheapest of the other options is double the price of my usual Norwegian route that transits in Gatwick.
posted by myotahapea at 7:48 AM on February 8

As vacapinta says, the EU has contingency that allow the planes to fly, but that doesn't mean the infrastructure around air travel is guaranteed to function properly in a no-deal scenario, especially at the big London airports. I'd be looking at other routes or checking whether Brexit counts as force majeure for travel insurance.
posted by holgate at 7:54 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation looking at April flights with a UK transit, I chose to rebook my trip via Paris instead of London. For me, I thought about the costs I might incur with a delay: a hotel, meals on the ground, lost accommodation/car bookings, let alone the time I would spend trying to investigate all this before my holiday.

In terms of alternatives, you might want to look at Scandinavian Airlines' 'SAS Go' fares if you're budget-conscious; they're a 'basic economy' class of fare designed to compete with Norwegian. If you're open to a longer layover check out flights on Turkish Airlines or Aeroflot, which offers quite good fares for Europeans willing to 'backtrack' to Istanbul/Moscow before flying west across the Atlantic. There are also often quite reasonable transatlantic economy fares on TAP Portugal and Aer Lingus.

Overall, I think if this trip is absolutely critical and you can't miss a few hours or even a day of it, I'd either pay for the convenience connecting somewhere else, or at least get a very good travel insurance policy.
posted by mdonley at 8:13 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

The main problem Brexit will cause is for immigration- as long as you connect through one airport you don’t immigrate, you offload, where passengers with final destination UK turn into an immigration queue you will either walk up to a new security queue in the same terminal or catch a bus to another terminal (air side) and go through security at the new terminal. Your bags normally get checked through as well for that same reason and you don’t have to complete a landing card. So whilst I can see Brexit causing disruptions if you have to get from Heathrow to Gatwick I wouldn’t expect more significant problems than if you connect through any other non EU hub.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:00 AM on February 8

I wouldn't risk it if it's early in April. Airlines fly between the US and UK under the US-EU Open Skies agreement. Once the UK crashes out, an EU operator may well be just as unable to legally fly a UK-US flight as a UK airline.

Any departures from normal order are up to Trump. Needless to say, any plan that relies on Trump (much less the UK government) being reasonable seems suspect at this point.

As a data point, Norwegian has had a rather new 737 stuck in Iran for some time now for want of an OFAC license that would easily have been fast tracked under any normally functioning US government just to get the thing out of the country before the Iranians get their mitts on anything interesting. (Not personal opinion, I'm just describing the mindset of those who believe in and enforce the sanctions) That isn't very confidence inspiring when it comes to expecting pragmatic responses to unusual circumstances from the US government.
posted by wierdo at 6:37 PM on February 8

To clarify one point: Norwegian Air UK operates the transatlantic flights from Gatwick (other Norwegian flights from Gatwick are operated by their Norwegian, Irish or UK subsidiaries) so there's no regulatory risk where that's concerned.

I'm extremely glum about Brexit, but I don't think that there will be immediate widespread civil disorder, and I think that the airline industry is the one most likely to have made successful Brexit preparations, because they were one of the few remaining industries in this country that always needed deal with international borders.

In terms of border controls, I suspect it won't be much different to business as usual. Everyone's passport was always checked at the border, and I don't think there will be a ramp up in customs enforcement (although I suspect there should be).

So I'd say that there's probably a 50% greater than usual chance of things going wrong, and that your most likely causes of disruption are the business as usual ones.
posted by ambrosen at 4:33 AM on February 9

Problem is that UK operators also fly under the EU-US Open Skies agreement. Without a deal, the UK is no longer entitled to the benefits of that agreement. Action would still be required from the US government.

Thus far, I have seen no evidence that any interim agreement has been reached between the UK and US.

(This part is a bit speculative for AskMe, but given that the very same sort of people Trump sucks up to and surrounds himself with are desirous of the most chaotic exit possible for their own financial benefit, I will be surprised if he and/or his hangers-on don't turn the screws on this and other topics to make sure the payday actually happens)
posted by wierdo at 10:15 AM on February 9

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