How 2024 will change travel in the UK and EU, from fingerprint checks to rail

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Barely 20 miles separate England and France, but next year the continent will feel much further away for UK nationals.

US-style border checks at EU frontiers will make the days of freedom of movement seem like a distant memory. Could a relaxation of the 90-day stay rule in certain countries cushion the blow?

We look at these, and other changes, likely to affect travellers in 2024.

More queuing at borders

Britain’s reputation as a nation of queuers will be bolstered next year when the EU introduces new border checks for non-EU nationals.

Remember those queues at Dover over Easter, as the port grappled with the post-Brexit reality of a hard border with the EU? Well, expect more of that from October when passengers will have to provide fingerprints and mugshots the first time that they enter the EU.

It’s all part of the new Entry/Exit System (EES), which will replace wet passport stamping. French authorities will operate EES checks at the Port of Dover, St Pancras (for Eurostar departures), and Folkestone (for Eurotunnel).

Doug Bannister, the Port of Dover’s chief executive, told i in April that the new checks would be “hugely problematic”, although he said there are long-term plans to rejig the port’s layout to improve flow rates.

Don’t think flying will spare you the rigmarole. Air passengers will have to go through the same process upon landing in the EU. Take a good book, and maybe a picnic.

A relaxation of the 90-day rule?

UK travellers outstaying their welcome in the EU face deportation and fines of up to €10,000. That welcome period is currently 90 days in a 180-day window, and those wishing to stay longer must apply for a visa.

This probably won’t change in 2024, but the rhetoric around it will. France and Spain are lobbying the EU for a relaxation of the rules for Britons.

This month, the French parliament approved an immigration bill that includes a clause which could allow Britons with a second home in France to remain in the country for six months without a visa.

It still needs to go through several hurdles to become a reality, however. This includes submission to the conseil constitutionnel (constitutional council), which considers whether the law complies with the country’s constitution and the conseil d’etat (state council) to examine how the exemption could be applied. The changes could be prevented on the grounds that it goes against EU law on the 90-day rule or the French constitution.

Spain is considering something similar. It is possible a French law change could prompt other countries to attempt other border-rule related alterations.

Rising UK rail fares

The Government has announced that regulated rail fares will increase by 4.9 per cent from March 2024.

The rising prices will be delayed from January, when they usually comes into effect.

Even so, rail passengers could be forgiven for feeling hard done by; fuel duty on petrol and diesel has been frozen since 2011. The affordability gap between trains and cars gets ever wider.

Intercity-Express (ICE) train at platform, ready to go!
Train travel on the continent is getting cheaper (Photo: Emilija Manevska/Getty/Moment RF)

Falling European rail fares

While UK rail fares rise, prices are heading the other way in Europe. The liberalisation of the continent’s railway network, intended to break monopolies and lower fares, is doing just that on key routes.

“Where you get a major city pairing with competing operators, quality goes up and prices come down,” says rail expert, Mark Smith (The Man in Seat 61).

“Every man and his dog are competing between Barcelona and Madrid. So far, [fares are down] about 48 per cent.”

Increased competition on Italy’s high-speed network has also suppressed fares – by around 25 per cent, added Smith.

Meanwhile, in France, the government has committed to a fare freeze on non-high-speed routes in 2024. There are media reports that a French version of Germany’s €49-ticket – allowing unlimited monthly train travel on some routes – will be in place by the summer.

The ‘capsule hotel’ concept will take to the rails

To see the sleek near future of nocturnal rail travel, jump aboard the Hamburg-Vienna Nightjet service in 2024. Its next-generation rolling stock brings first-class refinements to the rails, offering private cabins with en-suite showers and à la carte breakfasts. At the other end of the train – or “comfort plus”, as they’re calling it – “mini cabins” will evoke Japan’s cosy capsule hotels. The carriages are set to be rolled out on Nightjet’s many other routes from 2024.

Meanwhile, Europe’s burgeoning night train network will continue to expand, with a new sleeper between Brussels and Prague from March. It’s one of a handful of exciting new routes for 2024.

An SNCF employee walks past a coach of the Berlin-Paris train "nightjet" after it arrived at the Gare de l'Est in Paris on December 12, 2023. A new sleeper service between Berlin and Paris departed from the German capital on December 11, 2023 evening after a decade-long hiatus, as night trains gain in popularity as an alternative to short-haul flights. The route is run by French and German national train operators SNCF and Deutsche Bahn, while the rolling stock is provided by Austrian train company OeBB, whose "Nightjet" trains already criss-cross central Europe. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP) (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)
Nightjet has announced new routes (Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty)

The UK’s Airbnb honeymoon will end

The crackdown on holiday lets will likely be a key theme in 2024. The Scottish Government just gave local authorities the power to increase council tax on properties that aren’t occupied full time. English councils are set to get the same powers next year. Welsh councils already have them – and are using them. Pembrokeshire Council just voted to treble council tax on holiday homes. Edinburgh and Bath are mulling similar proposals in a bid to stop the “Airbnbification” of those cities.

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