Romania and Bulgaria: Flights of fancy

by Jon Danzig

Some of the British media are at war against the European Union – and it’s often said that the first casualty of war is the truth.

Yesterday on New Year’s eve, the Daily Mail reported:
‘Sold Out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’

Asserted the Daily Mail:

‘Almost all flights from Romania to England are full – even though one airline doubled the number to meet demand – with one-way tickets selling for up to £3,000 each.’

The Daily Mail reported that up to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians were now entitled to work in the UK as restrictions were lifted on 1 January 2014. Up until then, Romanians and Bulgarians could only work in the UK if they were self-employed or had a specific job offer. The Mail claimed that most flights from these countries to the UK were now full and one-way tickets were selling for up to £3,000 each (the newspaper failed to say which airline was charging this price.)

And yet, I was easily able to book flights from Bulgaria and Romania to London today and every day for the next week and beyond with EasyJet, WizzAir and for most days with British Airways at usual prices for this time time of year. A media spokesman for EasyJet told me that the traffic from Romania and Bulgaria was ‘nothing out of the normal’. The company issued a statement to say:

‘We haven’t seen any evidence of an increase to our passenger numbers for January 2014 on these routes compared to previous years.’

The press office for Wizz Air also told me:

‘The claims of the Daily Mail that we doubled our flights and that no low fares are available on UK routes to/from Bulgaria and Romania are complete rubbish.

‘Our Christmas peak travel is in line with previous years and similar to other peak travel periods (summer and Easter) on all our almost 300 routes.’

The Mail’s assertion that buses from Bulgaria to London are fully booked until 9th January is also untrue. I spoke with the main bus operator, Balkan Horn, who told me there were seats available for the bus this Friday (3 January) from Sofia to London – which only runs once a week and takes 4o hours. A spokeswoman for the company said:

‘Most of the passengers are returning back to the UK following the Christmas break. We actually have less bookings than this time last year.’

In Romania, Daniel Micu, CEO of Atlassib, the country’s main bus operator, was reported by the Romanian newspaper, Gandu, as saying that there was no ‘exodus of Romanians’ and no requirements to provide additional bus seats. Contrary to the Mails’ story, I was today able to book a seat on the next bus from Bucharest to London on Tuesday 7 January for €157.

This morning (1st January) to greet the first plane from Romania to Luton Airport was MP Keith Vaz. The Wizzair plane W63701, contrary to the Daily Mail reports, was only three-quarters full. Most of the Romanians on board were returning to their jobs and homes in the UK after the Christmas break. Just a handful of Romanian passengers were coming to England to seek work.

The Guardian newspaper reported Keith Vaz as saying:

‘Just on conversations we’ve had with people who have come here, a lot of them are returning people. They already work in Britain and they’re coming back off holiday, so they are not people coming here for the first time. We’ve seen no evidence of people who have rushed out and bought tickets in order to arrive because it’s 1 January.’

Also at Luton Airport this morning was former MP, Roger Casale, now chairman of the New Europeans group. He told me:

‘It was claimed by many that “hordes” of Bulgarians and Romanians would arrive in the UK as soon as the transitional controls were lifted. I went to meet the first plane into the UK from Romania which arrived at 7.23 am this morning at Luton Airport. The plane had a capacity of 180 but only 140 seats were filled.

‘All the passengers I spoke to already live and work in the UK and were returning from their Christmas break. There was one exception, Viktor, who was coming to Britain to find work and not to claim benefits. The only “horde” at Luton airport was the crowd of journalists and photographers who swamped Viktor for his story.

‘Gasping for breath after his countless interviews I was able to meet Viktor, welcome him to Britain and offer him a coffee – ”Just a glass of water please”, he replied, and brandishing a £ 20 note he then said ” But if you don’t mind I’ll pay for it myself!”

Tickets still available (as of today 1 January 2014):

Sofia to London: seats still available

Bucharest to London: seats still available

Daily Mail:‘Sold Out! Flights to UK from Romania and Bulgaria full.’ And the truth? http://t.co/pMhNK2jSc4#EU#Romania#Bulgaria

— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) January 1, 2014

Update:13 reasons why I am taking the Daily Mail to the Press Complaints Commission. Pls RT http://t.co/4o0Cf848e5 pic.twitter.com/dCrqiSrqrE

— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) January 20, 2014

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