The UK leg of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is being axed in 2024 by operator Belmond due to Brexit border-check disruption.
For the past 41 years, passengers have boarded the British Pullman at London Victoria, disembarked at Folkestone, crossed the Channel by coach, then continued their journey from Calais on the Continental Pullman.
But from 2024, Belmond will operate its Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train to and from Paris, with UK passengers travelling between London and the French capital by Eurostar.
Belmond said the move was to minimise disruption caused by enhanced passport controls – but was not necessarily permanent.
The operator said in a statement: ‘Ahead of the introduction of enhanced biometric passport controls between the UK and Europe, Belmond has decided to operate its Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train from and to Paris in 2024.
The UK leg of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is being axed in 2024 by operator Belmond due to Brexit border-check disruption
‘This temporary measure is meant to minimise risks of travel disruption and continue to provide our guests with the highest level of service. We hope to be able to reintroduce the London-Folkestone leg of the journey on board our British Pullman in the future.’
Railway expert Mark Smith, founder of the Man in Seat 61 website, told MailOnline Travel that the suspension of the British leg of the Belmond Pullman service was a ‘sad loss’.
He said: ‘It’s a great shame that Brexit border checks should kill the UK part of this iconic journey after 41 years. The British Pullman from Victoria station to Folkestone was always the perfect hors d’oeuvre to the overnight ride from Calais to Venice aboard the blue-and-gold Wagons-Lits.
‘Eurostar may be fast and convenient, but it can’t match dining on smoked salmon and Champagne as classic Pullman carriages from the 1920s and 30s roll across rural Kent on the traditional “boat train” route across rural Kent. It’s a sad loss.’
Border disruption at Dover is already acute at times – this Easter travellers waited for up to 16 hours to board ferries.
But the introduction of the Etias ‘visa-wavier’ scheme in 2024 and the rollout of the EES (Entry/Exit System) will send UK border checks into unknown territory.
One expert predicted Etias will cause ‘complete chaos’.
The Etias pass, a ‘visa-waiver’ in the style of a U.S Esta, will cost £6 (seven euros) and be valid for three years, or until a passport expires.
Belmond said: ‘Ahead of the introduction of enhanced biometric passport controls between the UK and Europe, Belmond has decided to operate its Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train from and to Paris in 2024’
It can be used for stays of up to 90 days in a 180-day period. Once it has been bought, Britons will get their fingerprints and photograph taken when they enter Europe – just as they are when arriving in the US.
The Etias, which stands for European Travel Information and Authorisation System, was set to start this November but has been pushed to an unconfirmed date in 2024.
But Rob Burgess, founder of the frequent flyer website Head for Points, has outlined future challenges the pass poses. He told MailOnline Travel: ‘The key issues are, frankly, that it’s not well publicised and people don’t know that they’re going to have to apply for a visa waiver before they travel to Europe. Secondly, the requirement to be fingerprinted and photographed on your first visit to Europe after you’ve activated your Etias is going to cause unbelievable problems.’
He added: ‘We’ve all heard stories of people who we’ve been stuck for three to four hours in US immigration, where there aren’t any desks open and a few planes arrive at once and there’s a lot of people on the flights who haven’t actually gone through on the same Esta.’
There could also be significant queues to check in for Eurostar trains once the pass comes into effect. The travel expert said: ‘At least for the first six to 12 months whilst people are registered and photographed, it could easily be complete chaos.’
He adds that it’s not clear yet whether travellers will have to have their photograph and fingerprints taken every time they get a new Etias.
Railway expert Mark Smith, founder of the Man in Seat 61 website, told MailOnline Travel that the suspension of the British leg of the Belmond Pullman service was a ‘sad loss’
The pass will be required for anyone from a country whose citizens do not need a visa to visit Europe. That includes the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Japan.
The EES (Entry/Exit System) system, which will work in conjunction with the Etias pass, is due to be rolled out at the end of the year.
It’s an automated system, which requires travellers to scan their passports at a self-service kiosk, for registering travellers from non-EU countries whenever they cross a border. The system takes note of biometric data, such as fingerprints and a photograph, and the date and place of entry and exit.