For a while The Aviation Oracle travelled between the UK and Dublin in the Republic or Ireland on an almost weekly basis while working on a contract with the national TV and radio broadcaster RTE. The early Monday and late Friday flights were a pleasant short hop across the Irish Sea, and staying only four nights I rarely needed more than carry-on bags.
Common Travel Area
Journeys between the UK mainland and Dublin are entirely within the Common Travel Area (CTA), a zone established in 1922 to enable passport-free travel between Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the Irish Republic. In theory, the CTA should make it possible to fly between Birmingham and the Irish capital without showing any documentation other than a boarding pass. In theory...
In these days of heightened security, identity checks have become an inevitable part of the air travel experience and the most practical way of satisfying the demands of the authorities is to carry a passport. However, a driving licence is typically an acceptable substitute when travelling domestically within the UK. My usual practice was to take a passport on my trips to Dublin, but one fateful Monday after reorganising one of my bags I left it at home. By the time I realised what I'd done I'd cut things too fine to return for it, so it became inevitable that I was going to put the theory of the CTA to the test. Undaunted, I resolved to carry on as planned but as I parked the car I began to wonder whether I might end up working from home.
Dublin without a passport
Departure from Birmingham was never going to be a problem. By then I knew the process well - direct to security (no bags to check-in) where a quick glance at my pre-printed boarding pass and driving licence would be more than adequate. Likewise, the return flight to the UK on Friday was going to be straight forward. Staff in Dublin never asked to see the passports of travellers departing to the UK and at Birmingham Airport there was a channel which enabled passengers from the ROI to bypass immigration (but not customs). No - I realised that the problem, if there was one, would arise when I laded in Dublin where passengers from the UK were invariably channeled through the standard Irish immigration checkpoints.
Will passports be mandatory for travel between
the UK and Ireland after Brexit? (Stratforder)
'Have your passport out"
A couple of hours later the Aer Lingus Airbus A320 touched down on Irish soil and as I had anticipated, until then there had been not even the slightest query about me not showing a passport. Unusually the queue at the Irish boarder was lengthy and travellers from the UK were being mixed with customers who had just flown in from the USA and mainland Europe. There was a barker marshalling the lines: "Passports at the ready - have your passport out please."
Everyone complied except me. As I shuffled forward I sensed the steely gaze of an official: "Have your passport out please sir."
"I've come from the UK and don't need one" was my reply.
The pause - and the glare - were palpable, but he said no more and moved on.
Eventually I reached the booth: "Passport please."
I placed my now torn boarding pass on the desk: "I haven't brought it. I've just come from Birmingham."
Although my response was perhaps a little unexpected the immigration official hardly raised an eyebrow: "Oh. OK. Carry on."
Immigration queues: an impediment to UK-Ireland air travel post-Brexit? (Beatrice Murch)
And that was it; I was in another country without a passport and the CTA had worked as advertised. The return trip went smoothly and I was never asked for my passport again. It was a learning experience. The experience of travelling without a passport had hardly been traumatic but I decided not to repeatedly test the process. On subsequent journeys it was checked quite frequently, almost always when entering Dublin but rarely when arriving back in the UK.
Free movement after Brexit
Reflecting on past experience got the thoughts flowing. In these unenlightened times, with Brexit staring the UK and the EU in the face, how will the CTA continue to work? While both sides were pally-pally and free movement was an enshrined right the lack of immigration checks at the UK-Ireland border hardly seemed to be an issue. But come April, is a passport going to become mandatory for Brits who enter Ireland? Are EU nationals going to have to show their documents as they enter fortress Britian?
Not reintroducing border checks would seem to leave the back door to Great Britain open to anyone with the nous to travel via Ireland. No doubt many will argue that carrying a passport is hardly an inconvenience. Maybe the APIS data we proide to airlines before we fly is the way forward - but without identity checks is it possible to ensure the person and the data match? Others will claim that the CTA is outdated as we Brexit and should be abolished. Frictionless trade borders are a regular Brexit debating point, but rarely is the CTA mentioned. Free movement between mainland Great Britain and the Republic seems to be a line in the sand that neither side want to lose post-Brexit. How can document-free travel within the CTA remain, while the UK seeks to ensure the identity of everyone coming or going is checked and their right to remain is established?
It's a genuine question and I'd love to see an answer. There's a comments box at the top right of this feature and anyone who knows what will happen is welcome to provide clarification. I will publish the most helpful responses in a future feature here on KJM Today.
Text © The Aviation Oracle.