Aer Lingus apology over language tests for passenger
A GREEK telecoms manager who has lived in Cork with her family since 1998 was forced to do a language test in English and Greek before being allowed to board an Aer Lingus flight home to Ireland from Barcelona recently.
Dr Chryssa Dislis, who holds a Greek (and so EU) biometric passport, was travelling to Ireland on January 6th after a short break with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. When they tried to check in for the flight the local agents for Aer Lingus insisted she fill in two forms, consisting of language tests in Greek and English.
When she protested that there was no legal basis for fluency in either language in order to have a Greek passport, their luggage was taken off the aircraft.
Asked for an explanation, the Aer Lingus handling agents’ manager on the ground, she claims, told her this was “because many people from your country travel on false papers”.
The agent’s staff did not ask to see any additional ID and ignored the fact Dr Dislis held a biometric passport, which are regarded as falsification-proof. She had used the same passport to enter Spain from Ireland only six days earlier.
Dr Dislis felt she had no choice but to fill in the forms, and asked for a copy. This was refused on the grounds they were internal documents. Her husband then photographed the forms, but the manager became threatening and said he would call the police, they would be arrested and the camera confiscated. She and her husband insisted the police be called.
“A very polite and calm policewoman arrived, who told them to put our luggage back on the flight and check us in,” Dr Dislis said.
“She asked us to delete a couple of the photos that showed staff members but, after a heated conversation with the manager, asked us if we would please delete the photos of the documents. We complied with the request and were checked in.
“All of this took place in full view of everyone in the queue. My daughter was deeply distressed and crying, and I found the whole experience very disturbing.
“In the age of biometric passports, such illogical and discriminatory ‘tests’ are entirely unacceptable. I was only targeted because of my nationality and no serious attempt was made to check that I was indeed flying back home, where I came from only six days previously,” she said. Her husband managed to retrieve the photographs from the camera and she transcribed the forms.
Dr Dislis travels extensively for work on various airlines and has never encountered this problem before. She asked both the Irish Department of Justice and the Garda National Immigration Bureau if the policy emanated from them. They said it had not.
She complained to both Aer Lingus and its Spanish agents. They confirmed that this is official policy, although Aer Lingus apologised for the distress caused and offered a travel voucher of €200.
In its response, the Spanish agents, Newco, said one of the most effective tests they have for the validity of documents is a language test. “One of the most forged documents is the Greek passport together with Portuguese and the Italian [ones],” they said. “Forged Greek passports are often used due to the difficulty Spanish people have in determining if the passenger speaks accurately. In fact, most of the Greek passports we have dealt with have turned out to be fraudulent documents.”
Dr Dislis is preparing a complaint under equality legislation. She is also bringing this to the attention of the European Commission and has raised it with the Greek embassies in Ireland and Spain.
A spokeswoman for Aer Lingus said that, as its legal department had received correspondence, she could not comment.
AER LINGUS TEST SAMPLE LANGUAGE QUESTIONS
1. Please write your forenames and family name in capital letters.
2. Please underline the numbers twelve and sixty-five: 12, 18, 24, 37, 41, 49, 57, 65, 73, 89.
3. Please write down in the following order: your date of birth, place of birth and today’s date.
4. Please point to the last page and to your photograph in the document before you.
5. Please show me any cash you have in your possession.
6. Please sketch a ladder and a triangle.
7. Please read out the script on the page of your document indicated.
8.What is your travel destination? (The Greek version asks “Where are you going to in England?”)