Foreign residents wrongly told to buy Covid tests before flying back to Sweden

Several readers have told The Local that their airlines refused to let them fly unless they could present a negative Covid-19 test, despite being covered by exemptions from testing requirements.

Foreign residents wrongly told to buy Covid tests before flying back to Sweden
File photo of passengers at Copenhagen Airport, which is used by a lot of people who live in southern Sweden. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Since December 28th, Sweden has required all travellers over the age of 12 to provide proof of a negative test for Covid-19 less than 48 hours old, unless covered by an exemption. 

The requirement is due to be removed later this week, less than four weeks after it was introduced, but is at the time of writing still in effect.

Swedish citizens and residents of Sweden are currently exempt from the testing requirements, and residents of the Swedish regions of Skåne, Blekinge and Halland are also exempt from Danish testing requirements – meaning that international Swedish residents living in border regions who fly to Copenhagen Airport and take the Öresund train onwards to Sweden do not need to show a test.

However, several readers have told The Local that when they turned up at check-in, their airline refused to acknowledge these exemptions and demanded that passengers show negative tests before allowing them to check in to their flights, meaning that they were forced to rush to onsite testing facilities at airports in order to get results back in time before their flights departed.

A British reader living in Lund, who did not wish to be named, said that he and his wife were flying from Manchester to Copenhagen on January 3rd, and were told by SAS at check-in that they needed to provide negative tests.

The couple should have been exempted from the testing requirement because they were transiting through Denmark and leaving the country within 24 hours; and additionally because they reside in one of the border regions.

The exemptions for border residents and transit travellers are outlined on the websites of both the Danish Ministry of Health and the country’s Coronasmitte official information page for travellers.

“SAS insisted we spend a very stressful hour at Manchester Airport getting £80-worth of unnecessary antigen tests or else they wouldn’t let us on the plane,” he told The Local.

The couple tried to explain the exemptions to ground staff, to no avail: “We had monitored the regulations about flying through Copenhagen to Sweden but they would not accept our arguments. The three ground staff couldn’t understand how we could get from Copenhagen to Lund. Would we fly? I explained there was a bridge and a train station directly below the airport. We would travel directly to Sweden in 35 minutes”.

Instead, they were told that they could not board without a negative test.

They managed to get to the test centre – in a different part of the airport – get tested, and get through security before the flight had finished boarding, but were still missing one set of results just minutes before the flight was due to board.

“We got there, and the woman asked ‘have you got your results?’ Well, my wife has, but not me. ‘Can you check again?’ So I’m now thinking: ‘Okay, okay, this is it, I stay behind and she goes ahead’ – so I check again, and ‘ping!’ the results come through, negative, we got on the plane – I think there was one person behind us. Click, the doors are closed.”

“We were like zombies! You couldn’t believe it, we did not have one word to exchange with each other. We were completely done.”

He said he experienced arrhythmia for a number of hours once the couple had returned to Sweden, which he suspects was caused by the stress of the experience. Arrhythmia is a serious medical condition where the heart beats irregularly, which can lead to sudden cardiac arrest or stroke.

“It almost killed us,” he said. “We are both 75 years old and each of us has a chronic medical condition. My wife almost collapsed and I had heart problems during the night. We spent the next day and a half in bed, by Wednesday evening we were beginning to feel more or less human.”

His wife has a chronic inflammatory disease, which makes exertion painful. She also has breathing issues which were exacerbated when the couple were rushing from check-in, to the test centre, through security and to the gate, with her husband at one point running ahead just enough to be able to shout back to her that the gate hadn’t closed.

He has contacted SAS to request compensation, but has yet to hear back – an automated e-mail said that he would hear a response in between six to eight weeks.

“The daft thing was, when we arrived in Copenhagen Airport, nobody wanted to see anything,” he said. “You show your passport – as you’re coming from outside the EU – you get on the train and then they say the train will stop at Hyllie [Sweden] where border guards will check your passports, vaccination certificates, all kind of stuff, the train stops there for 10 minutes, nobody gets on, and then after 10 minutes, off we go again. Nobody wanted to see anything. It was SAS who were the bottleneck, SAS themselves were doing the policing of the border, not the border guards.”

Another reader travelling from Chicago O’Hare to Copenhagen with her partner was also told to present negative tests at check-in. As border residents and transit passengers, the couple were covered by Danish and Swedish testing exemptions, but they had chosen to get tested as a precaution from a free test provider in the US, so did not need to find a place to get tested in the airport and were able to check in without issues.

The Local’s readers are not the only ones who have been affected by this problem – I had the same issue when travelling from Manchester to Malmö with my family via Copenhagen Airport on December 29th, as The Local Denmark reported here. SAS ground staff wrongly told us that the exemptions did not apply as we were “not transiting” – due to the fact that we were leaving the airport area in order to take a train.

However, Danish testing rules explicitly state that “persons in transit through Denmark departing within 24 hours of entry (e.g. Swedish air travellers who use Denmark as a hub)” are exempt from testing requirements.

The Local contacted SAS for comment, and received the following response:

“During the pandemic there have been different types of restrictions – and new rules and restrictions which have been removed and then reintroduced – so it’s understandable that for us, other flight companies and, of course, for travellers above all, who need to travel and cross borders, that this has clearly been challenging and difficult in many ways,” said Freja Annamatz, head of media relations for SAS Sweden.

“This is also a situation where we find ourselves in a very travel-intense period, where we suddenly have new restrictions, and we can only apologise that these customers have been given the wrong information in these cases.”

Annamatz advised affected passengers to submit a claim for any costs incurred: “They can submit a claim so that we can see if there are costs which we should reimburse – tests, for example – if it is the case that we have made a mistake, which obviously seems to be the case here.”

“It is difficult for me to comment on what has happened in these single cases – generally, we do everything we can to make sure that the information on our websites and the sources we refer to are as correct as possible – and then we also obviously need to have internal communication about this and make sure that our colleagues know about this.”

“This can be a challenge when things happen very quickly, and over Christmas and New Year there were a lot of new people, a lot of people off sick, where we have had to train new people or substitutes at short notice, for example. Obviously, this sort of situation should not occur, which we apologise for. But, the background is that, since restrictions occur with such short notice, sometimes it happens in individual cases that customers receive incorrect information, and we do apologise,” she stressed.

Annamatz also said that airlines can be subject to fines if passengers are turned away from border control due to incorrect documents.

“The whole check-in process has become much more complicated, because there is so much documentation that needs to be looked at, and also the rules around what is required. In many cases it’s the case that flight companies are responsible for making sure that passengers make it to their destination, it can be a case of fines and other types of reprimands, and in the worst case, passengers are not allowed in to the country.”

“So, like I said, we are extremely sorry, we apologise to these customers who have received the wrong information, but we do everything we can to make sure that all the information from our channels and the sources we refer to is as correct as possible.”

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”