[lg policy] Aer Lingus stops making holders of suspicious Greek passports take language tests
hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 14 14:44:46 UTC 2012
Aer Lingus stops making holders of suspicious Greek passports take
By Associated Press, Published: March 13
DUBLIN — An Irish airline apologized Tuesday for forcing a Greek woman
living in Ireland to complete a language test in her native tongue to
demonstrate that her passport and nationality were genuine.
Aer Lingus announced in response to Associated Press questions it
would suspend the year-old language tests — employed at its check-in
desks in Spain and in Portugal to try to identify people traveling on
fake passports — with immediate effect. Until Tuesday, those traveling
on Greek passports but unable to show fluency in Greek could be
refused permission to board.
The bizarre episode underscored how, despite longtime European Union
agreements to ease the movement of travelers throughout the 27-nation
bloc, individual nations and companies reserve the right to erect
awkward borders in hopes of deterring illegal immigration.
The policy became public after a telecommunications executive in
Ireland, Greek-born Chryssa Dislis, complained of degrading treatment
when checking in for a Jan. 6 flight from Barcelona, Spain, to her
home city of Cork in southwest Ireland. “The situation was completely
insane,” she said in a phone interview. “How, in an age of biometric
passports, can an airline stop me from flying unless I speak Greek to
them?” Her husband, traveling on a British passport, and 10-year-old
daughter, traveling on an Irish one, were cleared for takeoff. The
trio had just completed a six-day vacation in Barcelona.
But Dislis was told she must fill out two tests, one in English and
the other in Greek, to demonstrate her story was true. When she
refused, decrying it as both illogical and illegal, the Spanish
company that handles Aer Lingus flights in Barcelona, Newco Airport
Services, pulled the entire family’s suitcases off the plane. Both
tests asked her, in each language, to read passages aloud; to present
all the cash in her possession; to sketch a ladder and a triangle; to
identify the spelled-out versions of four numbers correctly; and to
describe their travel destination. The Greek version asked where she
was going “in England,” not Ireland.
Dislis, 48, said she had been flying around Europe about 10 times
annually in recent years, and never experienced such an unreasonable
restriction on her right to travel. “I had absolutely no way out if I
wanted to fly,” she said. When she asked for copies of the completed
tests, this was refused. When her husband then photographed them on
the counter, the staff called airport police to have the camera
“The manager went ballistic. He threatened to have the police destroy
all our photographs from our holidays,” she said. “Fortunately the
policewoman who arrived was extremely sensible, defused the situation,
and told the check-in desk to stop messing us about and put us on the
The couple did agree to delete their photographs of the tests — but
later retrieved them from the camera’s electronic garbage bin.
She recalled asking the Spanish staff if any of them even spoke Greek.
None did. “So the whole exercise was completely absurd,” she said. “I
could have written ‘Three Little Pigs’ on the form and they wouldn’t
have known any better.”
Dislis went public with her complaints this week after receiving a
letter of partial apology from the office of Aer Lingus chief
executive Christoph Mueller. It gave her a €200 ($260) discount card
for future Aer Lingus travel but offered no indication that the
airline would restrict or stop the language quizzes.
She also has filed a complaint against Aer Lingus with the Equality
Authority of Ireland, which could choose to prosecute and fine the
airline for discriminatory practices. Dislis noted that it’s not
uncommon for people to hold passports from a relative’s home country
yet not be fluent in its language. She noted that her two daughters,
including a 20-year-old at university in Dublin, spoke little Greek.
“My older daughter also has a Greek passport and she’d have flunked
that test,” she said.
Aer Lingus spokeswoman Gillian Culhane, contacted by the AP, said the
airline was sorry for the upset that Dislis and her family had
suffered. Later, Culhane said the airline had suspended use of the
tests effective Tuesday. Culhane said Aer Lingus received the tests
from the United Kingdom Border Agency in early 2011 as part of a
British warning that illegal immigrants were increasingly using fake
Greek passports, particularly through Spain and Portugal, to gain
entry to Britain and Ireland. The British and Irish maintain border
controls with the rest of Europe but do not require passports to
travel between their own two countries.
The UK Border Agency did not respond to AP questions seeking
clarification on its tests, how widely they have been used, by which
airlines, and any statistics to show how many people had been refused
permission to fly because they could not write, read or speak the
language of their passport origin. Officials at the Spanish airline
handling agency Newco, Spain’s National Airport Authority and the
Spanish National Police said they could shed no light on the extent of
use of such language-proficiency tests at airline check-in desks.
Newco said it had no official available to speak on the subject
because the company is in turmoil following a February bankruptcy
order and massive staff layoffs. The other two agencies said they were
unaware that companies operating in Spain were using British language
tests at check-in desks. However, Dislis supplied the AP with an
emailed Jan. 20 letter from Newco apologizing for how she was treated.
The letter, identified as coming from claims department official
Esther Gonzalez, contained broad, unsubstantiated claims about the
threat posed by fake Greek passports.
“One of the most effective tools to determine if the passenger is
carrying a valid document ... is a language test,” the letter said.
“One of the most forged documents is the Greek passport together with
the Portuguese and the Italian. Forged Greek passports are often used
due to the difficulty Spanish people have to determine if the
passenger speaks accurately,” it said. “In fact, most of the Greek
passports we have dealt with have turned out to be fraudulent
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