Uncommon Travel Experiences

Back in Cardiff for the Easter weekend – which I am to spend mainly sleeping – after flying back this morning from Dublin, I thought I’d do a brief post about a fairly strange thing that happened when I got to Cardiff Airport this morning.

I’ve done this flight many times over the past few months and arrival at Cardiff has always been the same story: passengers disembark and walk through a special arrival gate marked `Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland’. This leads past a couple of desks (marked security) which have always been unoccupied and straight into the baggage reclaim area. This morning, however, there were 3-4 police and/or UKBA people and they checked everybody’s passport who was on the flight from Dublin.

This is quite irregular, as there is supposed to be a Common Travel Area including the UK and Ireland (as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), and passport checks are not routinely made at borders within the CTA. They never have been to date on any of the trips I’ve made.

So what was going on? Was it some sort of rehearsal for the post-Brexit era (which may well see the end of the CTA, as there is likely to be a hard border between the UK and Ireland)?

I suspect not. One possibility is that the Police were actually looking for someone or something specific. Although passport checks are not routinely made, there is no law forbidding them if there’s a reason to make them. In fact the CTA is the result of informal agreements rather than domestic laws or international treaties so it’s not legally enforceable in any case.

However, I think a likelier explanation is connected to the reason why the flight was late departing from Dublin. The computer system that is linked to the automatic boarding pass reader at the departure gate seemed not to be working. The Flybe staff there had to check every document by hand, and cross names off a printed list as they went through the departure gate. The final tally of passengers also took a while to produce, so we left about 25 minutes late.

I suspect that whatever the problem was with Flybe’s systems, some of the passenger data usually registered for each flight was not available. When authorities at Cardiff were informed about this, an additional precautionary check was performed. I think this is a good theory, as it provides a unified explanation of two unique phenomena (unique in my experience of the Dublin-Cardiff route, that is).

Anyway, although I was surprised at to find uniformed people checking passports when I arrived, and mildly concerned that I might miss the 10.00am bus from the airport to Cardiff, I have travelled enough to realise that it’s never a good idea to make a fuss or even a joke when immigration officers are involved; it never achieves anything and they rarely possess even the most rudimentary sense of humour. And I got on the bus with plenty of time to spare….

Incidentally, when arriving in Dublin from Cardiff there is no specific arrival area for passengers from the UK who must proceed to passport control along with everyone else. A person travelling from the UK to Ireland does not have to show a passport – an ID card will suffice – but the UK does not have a system of ID cards so the only photo-identification most of us have is a passport. In practice, therefore, I show my passport when I arrive. In fact I usually show it to the automatic barrier that reads e-passports, which is far quicker than joining the queue for those with old passports or other forms of ID. At least the automatic machines work in Dublin…

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