Police crack down on parent-assisted truancy at German airports

Pursuit of cheaper travel outside school holidays may land parents with steep fines

Allgaeu airport in Memmingen: passengers with children await check-in or departure. Photograph:  EyesWideOpen/Getty

Allgaeu airport in Memmingen: passengers with children await check-in or departure. Photograph: EyesWideOpen/Getty

 

Budget travel may be about to get another unwelcome surcharge – but this time Michael O’Leary and Ryanair are not to blame.

Police in Bavaria have caused uproar after stopping parents and their children hoping to gain a few days and save a few euro – by heading off early for the holiday weekend.

The checks took place at airports in Memmingen and Nuremberg and involved 21 travelling families with school-age children.

“The most common excuse of parents is that the children are excused from school, but that the permission for this is somewhere in their suitcase or at home,” said Michael Petzold, a Bavarian police spokesman. “When our colleagues then asked at the schools, the story didn’t stand up.”

Instead the parents were doing what parents have done since the dawn of budget European air travel: booking flights a day or two before the holiday rush to save money.

But it may yet prove to be a false economy: Germans take a dim view of anyone who takes a child out of school without permission. Fines begin at €50 but, in some of Germany’s 16 federal states, rise to €2,500.

No one was prevented from travelling, Bavarian police say, but their details were noted in case they are tempted again in the future.

Travel hubs

So far the campaign seems to have been limited to Bavaria. Unnamed officials from Germany’s federal police, responsible for security at travel hubs such as airports and train stations, told the Bild tabloid they were “surprised” by the number of school-age children travelling early before the Whitsunday (Pentecost) long weekend. But such checks are the competence of local police, they said.

“The honest parents are the dumb ones,” the spokesman added, “because they have to pay several hundred euro more for flights.”

According to Germany’s federal statistics offices, flights and hotels booked for at least one day ahead of holiday weekends are about 8 per cent and 40 per cent cheaper respectively.

While Bavaria has the best-performing schools and students in the country, the airport crackdown has touched a nerve in Germany, with the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily asking: “Do the police have nothing better to do?”

The federal police union agreed, saying it is “more sensible to talk to the parents”.

As for the parents, Stephan Wassmuth of Germany’s federal parents’ association said school attendance rules should be obeyed. “But getting the police involved,” he added, “is overdoing it a bit”.