How Will Brexit Affect Your European Vacation?

Brexit is finally here. Britain is officially leaving the European Union (EU) today, January 31. This major change will cause a ripple effect of travel issues for American tourists planning a trip to Europe, especially those planning a stop in Britain. While the U.K. will be in a transition period from February 1 to December 31, any new travel regulations that come with Brexit will apply from 2021.

The controversial exit will inevitably mean travel-related logistical difficulties for all Europeans, with there being no more visa-free travel within the Schengen area (the 22 remaining EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein).

But Brexit will also have consequences for Americans visiting Britain and the rest of Europe. Here we look at what U.S. travelers should know if they're heading to Britain post-Brexit.

Flight cancellations and delays

Americans planning on a stopover in Britain before traveling elsewhere in Europe may be subject to flight delays and cancellations.

Post Brexit, Britain is longer part of an "open skies" agreement among countries with the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), which includes EU states and a few other nations, that allows air travel between ECAA member countries.

With Britain no longer being a part of the ECAA, airlines will need to seek permission to fly to an EU country, while carriers in EU countries will need to do the same for flights to the U.K. If permissions aren't granted in time before scheduled departures, several flights may either be delayed or even grounded until permissions are granted.

Tourists traveling directly to an EU country from the U.S., however, will not experience any changes because of Brexit due to an existing air transport agreement between the EU and the U.S. which allows all transatlantic routes to be opened up to EU and US airline companies.

Likewise, tourists who plan on traveling only to Britain will also need not worry about flight regulation changes after Brexit. While the U.S. is among the 17 non-EU countries where Britain's air travel agreements are covered under EU membership, in November 2018 the U.K. established a separate air service agreement with the U.S. that allows transatlantic flights between the two countries to remain unaffected following Brexit.

More expensive flights

Americans have been taking advantage of the pound becoming weaker since the Brexit vote in 2016. The U.K. Office for National Statistics previously reported that 21 percent more visitors came to the U.K. in the first three months of 2017, spending a record amount of money.

Americans reportedly spent around $4.4 billion in the U.K. between January and September in 2019, with the country having received a total of 3.5 million visits from the U.S. in that period, according to the latest International Passenger Survey from VisitBritain.

But Americans traveling from Britain to an EU country are likely to face hiked flight prices because European airlines will have to pay more fees to fly within U.K. airspace, which is no longer part of an open skies agreement allowing free travel. Therefore, airlines may be forced to foot the bill by increasing air fares for passengers traveling between Britain and the EU countries.

Longer wait times at airports

From 2021, British passport holders will have to join American travelers on queues for non-EU passport holders at European airports, so getting through customs will take longer than before.

Airport delays in Europe will also result from officials having to take a closer look at the expiration dates of passports. After Brexit, British travelers visiting an EU country will need to have at least six months left on their passports to be allowed to travel, whereas before officials only needed to check that the passport hadn't expired. The six-month passport rule will also apply to American tourists traveling to an EU country from Britain.

On the upside, if you're only planning to visit Britain, at the moment American tourists visiting the U.K. no longer need to fill out landing cards and can access automatic ePassport gates, so Americans no longer need to queue to be approved for entry by a U.K. customs officer. "These gates use facial recognition technology to check your identity against the photo in your passport," the U.K. Home Office government website notes, so it only requires passports to be scanned at the gate.

But to use the ePassport gates, you must be aged 12 or over (if you're between 12 and 17, you must be accompanied by an adult) as well as have a valid visa or a biometric residence permit and a passport with a 'chip' on it. Your passport must also be valid for the duration of your stay, the Home Office adds.

Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 Arrivals 2019
Passport signs directing passengers pictured at the passport control in arrivals in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London on July 16, 2019. Getty Images

More expensive hotels

While flights to Britain might be cheaper due to the weaker pound, Americans may also have to compete with U.K. domestic travelers who are likely to opt for "staycations" at home in Britain due to their usual European vacations now being more expensive and more of a logistical nightmare following Brexit, with there no longer being visa-free travel between the U.K. and EU countries. Therefore, the demand for U.K. hotels is likely to climb with Brexit, which will come with rising prices. This may be the same case for hotels in the rest of Europe.

Hotel guests may also bear the cost of higher pay offered for jobs at hotels in the U.K. Hotels may be forced to offer higher wages to provide more incentives for Europeans to apply for U.K. jobs to maintain hotel staff numbers, which is likely to dwindle due to EU citizens no longer being allowed to live and work visa-free in the U.K.

Additional security screening

Unrelated to Brexit but also in effect from next year, it will be mandatory for U.S. travelers heading to an EU country to register for the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). The new system is designed to be an extra security measure for travelers who have visa-free access to countries in the EU, such as U.S. travelers.

"Starting in 2021, the European Commission will roll out a U.S. style electronic travel authorization system for visitors from countries that are currently not part of the EU. These visitors have been granted visa-free access to the EU and Schengen member countries through virtue of their good track record on security issues and, thus, have not been deemed as a threat to EU security," the ETIAS explains.

"However, the EU is wanting to strengthen its border security as well as digitally screen and track travelers entering and leaving EU countries."

"Under the ETIAS, these visitors will undergo additional security checks prior to being permitted to enter into the EU," it adds.