Culhane said Aer Lingus received the tests from the United Kingdom Border Agency in early 2011 as part of a British warning that illegal immigrants were increasingly using fake Greek passports, particularly through Spain and Portugal, to gain entry to Britain and Ireland. The British and Irish maintain border controls with the rest of Europe but do not require passports to travel between their own two countries.
The UK Border Agency did not respond to AP questions seeking clarification on its tests, how widely they have been used, by which airlines, and any statistics to show how many people had been refused permission to fly because they could not write, read or speak the language of their passport origin.
Officials at the Spanish airline handling agency Newco, Spain's National Airport Authority and the Spanish National Police said they could shed no light on the extent of use of such language-proficiency tests at airline check-in desks.
Newco said it had no official available to speak on the subject because the company is in turmoil following a February bankruptcy order and massive staff layoffs. The other two agencies said they were unaware that companies operating in Spain were using British language tests at check-in desks.
However, Dislis supplied the AP with an emailed Jan. 20 letter from Newco apologizing for how she was treated. The letter, identified as coming from claims department official Esther Gonzalez, contained broad, unsubstantiated claims about the threat posed by fake Greek passports.
"One of the most effective tools to determine if the passenger is carrying a valid document ... is a language test," the letter said.
"One of the most forged documents is the Greek passport together with the Portuguese and the Italian. Forged Greek passports are often used due to the difficulty Spanish people have to determine if the passenger speaks accurately," it said. "In fact, most of the Greek passports we have dealt with have turned out to be fraudulent documents."
Associated Press writer Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.