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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Where to now for EU travel law?

Where to now for EU travel law?


From air fares to data roaming charges, Dr Julian Morris discusses the potential effects of Brexit for UK tour operators and travellers

From air fares to data roaming charges, Dr Julian Morris discusses the potential effects of Brexit for UK tour operators and travellers

It's done, we have voted: exit stage left.
Anyone packed their bags yet? What now for the travel industry, on the back of the falling pound, share slides, and withholding of trading
on stocks? Is it now home versus away?

There are strong travel and tourism links
between the UK and the EU, and the EU is the main destination for UK tourists. What are the potential results of Brexit for travellers?

First, costs. A falling pound will make foreign travel, whether inside or outside the EU, more expensive. The settling or pinning of sterling against both the euro and the dollar is crucial.
The decline will clearly assist the home team, but will it deter the many thousands who venture near and far? An American friend over for the weekend recently stated, 'Now is the time to visit England, and especially London, historically renowned for being expensive.'

Customs checks

For those visiting Europe, if going by car, the
Le Touquet agreement may affect travel. For
the majority of routes, customs checks remain unaffected by immigration controls, which continue to take place upon arrival. However, the Eurotunnel is the exception, and French authorities (both local and national) postulated, soon after the vote,
that customs checks might revert to taking place
on arrival after disembarkation (rather than on departure, as now), which would affect our border controls in Kent.

It has been suggested that Brexit might result
in UK citizens having to return to visa applications for European travel. While it is accepted that this
is a requirement for long-haul travellers, it seems irrational that our near neighbours would wish
to make travel to their shores even more difficult,
when UK holidaymakers account for such a large proportion of their visitors and therefore a significant contribution to the local and national economies, but if they were to make life difficult, then the possibility remains.

If Brexit were to start a domino effect, intercountry border checks might be reintroduced with the
lapse of the Schengen Agreement, but that will surely happen some years down the line, if at all.
The more likely result is that we will all be able to travel carrying our passports, although the front cover may need changing.

Air travel

In respect of our travel, a weakening pound is likely to have an effect on oil and therefore aviation fuel prices, in the upward direction. More expensive travel would inevitably lead to more expensive holidays in the future. Given that most tour operators work 18 months ahead, that is next
year's problem - or is it?

Holiday surcharges can be presented, post payment, if costs have increased (for example, currency fluctuations, rising fuel costs, and so on). Tour operators have to absorb the first 2 per cent
of any increased cost and there is an upper limit
of 10 per cent. They are also required to submit
any additional costs more than 30 days before departure (provided, of course, it is stated in
the terms and conditions). How likely is that to happen? Commercially, tour operators want repeat business. Reviewing the list of companies charging surcharges at the time of writing, there is one post-Brexit addition. Due to currency changes, major surcharges seem unlikely.

If fuel costs are likely to be absorbed, in the short term, will the wide choice of our travel remain?
The freedom provided by air travel, especially over the last 20 years, was brought about by the removal of the old restrictions on air service agreements, which has allowed the development of the cheaper air travel companies. It would appear the likes of easyJet and Ryanair could potentially have different competing issues and a necessity for agreements to be able to work: the former will require access to EU countries and the latter access to the UK. Clearly, historically, both had access to all. That must throw into question the ability of a company to service the wide numbers of routes that they currently do, in the medium term, without further agreements. Whether
there is a reduction in the number of flights or
not, passengers will still want prompt service.

Following an EU directive, passengers have
been entitled to set levels of compensation for delays and cancellations. The directive was brought in to 'even the playing field' for consumers. One
can only presume that for a UK-based airline,
it will follow that Brexit means this directive
could fall away. However, flights in and out of
EU countries and within the EU would still fall under the directive. While some airlines registered outside the EU might want the cover to fall away, one cannot see any government wanting to (or agreeing to) dilute consumer rights to that extent.

Roaming charges

For argument's sake, let us envisage that we have reached our EU destination - with passports, on time, and looking forward to the good weather
and a break, albeit with a slightly lighter pocket
of foreign currency. What now?

You will, of course, want access to your phone and data roaming. Gradually, membership of the EU has brought down roaming charges, especially in recent years, and these are currently due to be abolished entirely on 15 June 2017. The date is only provisional and previous attempts to implement the same were aborted on the back of concerns for the telecom market. While safeguards have been put in place, they did not take account of Brexit.

Will this now happen for UK travellers? Will
the UK government have to conduct separate negotiations with the phone companies? What is certain is that those countries in Europe, but not
in the EU, did not qualify for the roaming cap;
by contrast, it does apply to members of the European Economic Area (Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland), so perhaps
we will all have to keep our data roaming off in
the future or only use it sporadically to save costs.

Medical care

Someone in the family falls ill. We have used the
first aid kit and bought some over-the-counter medication but need to see a doctor. Hopefully,
we have taken out travel insurance (and hopefully there will be no increase in the premiums), but
what about other arrangements?

Our European health insurance card entitles
us to reduced or free treatment in EU countries - it would therefore affect EU travellers coming to the UK as well. The question will, no doubt, be one of economics. Providing free point-of-service care
is fine as a member of a group, but outside the
group would there be the political will to continue to underwrite, centrally, such an agreement?
What would the cost to the NHS be? Is a reciprocal agreement worth running if the government could save costs at home by charging visiting individuals, while abroad insisting you pay out of pocket or via insurance. It is likely there will be more negotiations.

Water standards

Thankfully, we have received our medical treatment and are back on the mend, and so we head off to the beach. Following the EU Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC), the state of beaches both at home and abroad has improved. Arguably, some would say, the improvements since the late 1980s have been largely the result of the modernisation of sewage stations by water companies. Nevertheless, it is reported that 97 per cent of England's beaches
meet the EU water standards; that has to be good news for holidaymakers.

Duty-free goods

With an eye now on the return home, we are wondering whether we can fit that five-litre box
of wine in our suitcase and place it in the hold.
In 1999 we lost the right to buy duty free while returning from EU countries, but we have gained
the ability to bring in goods for our own use or consumption tax free. By way of example, excise duties in the UK and France on a bottle of wine are £2.08 and 23p a bottle respectively. Brexit will presumably mean that we revert to the duty-free allowances for non-EU countries, namely 16 litres
of beer, four litres of wine, and 200 cigarettes.
Try fitting that in your hand luggage.

Package Travel Regulations

Finally, after we return home, we decide that
we will bring a sickness claim against the tour operator. The time spent visiting the hospital, missing two days of the holiday, and the subsequent recovery need addressing. Luckily, since 1992, we have had the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), a body of EU legislation
to afford consumers recourse when things
go wrong.

The PTRs are due for an update, with greater onus on tour operators and even more protection for consumers. Those changes are due to come into effect in July 2018. It is the writer's understanding that triggering article 50, in, say, September,
would provide for the exit negotiations to begin, and during that period, EU law would still apply
to the UK.

However, whether there would, in the wider picture, be sufficient parliamentary time to enact the updated PTRs must surely be up for debate.

What is clear is that, given the short-term and unknown longer-term effects, the journey for tour operators and travellers alike is uncertain. There are negotiations to be had. Travel is but one area that will have to ride the waves as we set off from the
EU shores back to our island.

Dr Julian Morris is a partner at Plexus Law @Plexus_Law