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Which flights could be grounded after Brexit?

While politicians argue furiously about whether we should have a soft or hard Brexit, a deal or no deal, the rest of us are starting to get teeny bit worried about our travel plans and whether flights we’ve booked will still fly after March 29.


So which flights could be grounded post-Brexit, exactly?

As reported by several newspapers recently, there’s a danger that some passengers are holding tickets for flights that airlines don’t have the rights to operate if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on March 29.

This is partly because that EU has agreed that UK airlines can continue to fly to the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but it has placed a cap on the number of flights.

It stated in November last year, that if Britain and the EU fail to negotiate a deal, flights to the EU by UK airlines will be capped at summer 2018 and winter 2018/19 levels.

What does this mean?

Most flights between the two will continue after March 29, but several UK airlines, including British Airways, easyJet and Jet2 have added extra flights for this summer, which means that some people have bought tickets on flights that airlines might not be able to operate.

It’s impossible to say which flights could be grounded as it will be down to airlines and the government to choose which ones are axed, and it won’t necessarily be the additional flights added this year, but the international airline body IATA estimates there could be as many as 140,000 flights grounded in total, affecting about 20 million passengers.

And that’s only within the EU. Leaving the Union means that Britain has to negotiate new air service agreements with 17 countries outside the EU within the next few weeks, otherwise flights to these destinations could also be affected by Brexit.

Fortunately, Britain has managed to negotiate new bilateral agreements with the United States, and also with Albania, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Montenegro, Morocco and Switzerland. It says it is close to a deal with Canada.

However, it still has no agreement for flights between the UK and Jordan, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway and Serbia after March 29, although the Dft said this week that it was ‘confident’ new arrangements will be in place before the UK leaves the EU.

The Airport Operator’s Association estimates 95% to 97% of planned flights will operate post-Brexit and airlines are playing down the threat of services being grounded, with easyJet quoted in one newspaper this week saying that the flight cap was ‘not an issue’. That might, or might not, be some comfort to those who’ve bought flights this summer.

If you’re worried, remember that this is only in the event of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, which is unlikely, but who knows?

Will foreign airlines still be able to fly to and from the UK?

Almost certainly yes. The UK has said that all EU and airlines that have an agreement with the EU will still be allowed to fly to and from Britain after March 29. As previously mentioned, it is renegotiating agreements with airlines from 17 countries outside the EU.

EU and EEA airlines will need a permit to fly to, from and within the EU. The biggest, Ireland-registered Ryanair, already has its permit in place…. so phew.

What happens if your flight is cancelled?

Airlines or tour operators will be obliged to refund you the cost of your ticket and accommodation if you bought it as part of a package, but if you’ve bought other services separately, including accommodation, car hire or tours, you might not get your money back. Several tour operators and airlines have added a “Brexit clause” stating that they won’t be liable for any additional costs customers might incur if they are forced to cancel their flights due to the UK leaving the European Union. Neither will you be eligible for compensation, even if flights are cancelled at the last minute, as companies will argue that the disruption is outside of their control.

You should check to see if you travel insurance will cover any additional costs you might incur, but this will depend on what’s included in your particular policy. ABTA’s advice to holidaymakers is to book a package, rather than flights and accommodation separately, as then at least the whole cost of your trip will be refunded if flights are grounded. Alternatively, make sure your hotel, car hire and other service providers offer free cancellations.

Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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