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Why Europe Travel May Soon Get Complicated

The 26-country no-border-control Schengen area is in danger of collapsing under the migration threat. Presumably, the new border controls will be for no more than two years. But for now, you have to figure on reverting to the bad old days of mind-numbing border hassles within the area.

The basic idea of eliminating border formalities—and delays—was quite simple. Schengen includes all of Western Europe except for Ireland and the U.K., plus the Baltics, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia. The enabling Schengen treaty provides for free movement of people and goods within the area. Thus, once you enter the Schengen area, all flights within the area are defacto domestic, drivers face no formalities at highway border crossings, and trains don’t stop for border formalities.

But that traveler-friendly system is under threat. To limit the impact of the huge migrant flow and restrict the movement of potential terrorists, Austria, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have reintroduced border checks for the next two years, and more countries may follow suit. Those newly reintroduced controls make a difference.

Two years ago, for example, when I flew from Krakow to Geneva with a connection in Frankfurt, on arrival at Frankfurt I just got off the plane and headed for the gate for my Geneva flight with no passport stamping or anything like it, and arrival at Geneva was like arrival on a domestic flight from Zurich. The Swiss-French border crossing inside the Geneva airport was shuttered and dusty. Traveling within the area was like traveling from, say, Chicago to New York.

But two months ago, when I flew from Vienna to London with a 45-minute Paris connection, on arrival at De Gaulle all passengers were bussed to a remote gate and processed through passport control—at a typically French bureaucratic pace. Because the arrival gate was so far from the usual Schengen-area terminal, by the time I had schlepped to the departure gate for London, I had missed my connecting flight.

Anyone planning on traveling within Europe should figure extra time and hassle into their travel plans. If you’re connecting on flights from one Schengen country to another, allow at least an hour for the connection, shorter official “minimum connecting times” notwithstanding. Driving a rented car, figure border delays that could last hours. When will this added hassle disappear? Your guess is as good as mine: When will the threat of terrorism and flood of refugees end?

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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