Once upon a time we sailed through French passport control. Not any more. Still, travelling by motorhome means we can make a cup of tea whilst we wait and panic… The following article is based on a friend’s recent experience of crossing at Dover.
For many decades my family have sailed the seven seas, well the English Channel, with our motorhome, for enjoyable sunny holidays in primarily France and Spain. Hence we are very familiar with the controls necessary to board a ferry with or without children and dog, and to plan accordingly.
Our latest expedition in mid-August has been by far the most gruelling. So much so that, in spite of allowing more than the necessary high season check-in time as advised by P&O and tracking Port of Dover Travel News tweets, we genuinely thought we were at risk of missing the ferry and were even more concerned for those in vehicles queuing behind us.
Admittedly we were travelling on a Friday, but the traffic directors in Dover told us it was not particularly busy, just a normal Friday morning in school holidays. This seemed to be born out once we arrived on the boat. Being a motorhome, we are normally parked on a lower deck with other high sided vehicles. But this Friday we were directed to drive up the internal ferry ramp onto the car deck. Whilst the car deck filled up completely, when we entered the passenger area of, what looks like a very new ferry, it was clear the ferry was not at all at capacity, but more likely barely half full.
So given the ferry was so empty, why was I brought to a near state of ‘missing the ferry’ panic? Surely the Port of Dover and ferry companies work together to facilitate the timely departure of a full ferry? Though, given a P&O tweet, it appears missing a ferry is not uncommon. Yet our ferry was half full. What is the explanation?
Yes, you guessed it – Brexit.
Take Back Control
Pre-Brexit, French passport control in the Port of Dover just waved us, and most other British vehicles, through without stopping us. But now, since the EU are controlling their borders, French passport control checks and stamps each and every passport.
Consider the holiday season when many holiday makers travel to a gîte, campsite or their second home, typically four or five people in a car. That’s potentially five passports to check to see if valid, if you are at risk of breaching the 90 days stay in 180 days, and then stamp. These passport checks just slow everything down.
As to what the situation will be on check-in wait times when ETIAS is introduced, I cannot say. Since Brexit was fought on the basis of ‘Take Back Control’, we Brits can hardly complain when the EU are devising a system to improve the security of EU member states within the Schengen region. Nor can we complain that the EU will be capturing data on travellers that currently visit the area without a visa. Whilst the ETIAS application itself will not require biometrics, fingerprints and face biometrics will be collected when a person travels to a Schengen area.
How this will be managed logistically at Dover I have no idea. Giving evidence to parliament about the new system, Tim Reardon, head of EU exit for the Port of Dover, said “There is no way of doing a biometric control without getting everyone out of the vehicle”.
One thing I am sure of, is there will be further and longer delays. I know in the future we’ll be one of the lucky ones to be travelling in a motorhome with the ability to make a cup of tea, have access to a toilet and even lie down on a bed for a “whilst we wait” doze!
The Brexit dividend
I try to be a person who looks for the silver lining. And yes, there was one. Since passport control slowed everything down so much, we whizzed through customs and straight onto the ferry without further delay. And that hasn’t happened before!
Tweets from Friday 18 August when the journey took place: