Flying in Europe could be easier under new plan


Flying from Munich to Paris? Or Madrid to Amsterdam? Then, in theory, you no longer need to go through immigration controls. Technically, you don't even need your passport for most of the journey.

Since March 26, seven of the 15 European Union countries have been participating in an exercise in integration, allowing travelers between any of those countries to cross borders on land without stopping to show passports and to use lines at airports without showing identification, as if they were on domestic flights.

The idea is to advance the freedom of movement between the various European states, but it has its down side: To get into the seven so-called Schengen states -- named for a town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed 10 years ago -- travelers have to submit to even more rigorous controls than before, to ensure that they do not appear on a computerized list of criminals and prohibited immigrants.

The new rules do not make that much difference for American travelers entering Europe: The United States already had reciprocal visa agreements with all seven of the Schengen group -- Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain -- and European immigration officials maintain that the new controls are not time-consuming.

Indeed, said Paul Fritsch, a spokesman for the United States Consulate in Bonn, since the new procedures were introduced, there have been no reports of major delays specifically affecting Americans. In fact, he said, the removal of immigration controls between the seven countries and the dismantling of highway border posts has removed one more choke point for travelers in Europe.

The new system is not as liberating as it may first appear, however, particularly for Third World travelers, who will most certainly have a harder time securing entry visas for any one of the Schengen countries than they did in the past.

Even within the seven countries, traveling from one to another is not like taking a flight from New York to Chicago or Miami. Airlines may still check the name on a ticket against a passport. Authorities in some countries, notably France, are fully entitled to ask foreigners (and their own nationals) to prove their identity at any time, so Americans should keep their passports with them.

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