Greek 'language test' protester wins free flights

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By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press

DUBLIN (AP) — The Greek businesswoman who decried an Irish airline's policy of making Greek travelers pass language tests to prove their nationality has received free flights for her family and an explicit promise it has abandoned the practice.

Chryssa Dislis on Friday told The Associated Press that Aer Lingus now accepts it should never have asked her, or any Greek passport holder, to answer written and oral questions in Greek as a condition of their right to fly.

She provided the AP a letter from the Aer Lingus chief executive's office offering her, her husband and daughter free flights to anywhere in Europe and promising "that the policy to conduct a language test for customers holding Greek passports has been revoked."

Dislis credited AP's Tuesday coverage of her case with spurring the Aer Lingus concessions.

"I was discriminated against, but the policy has been addressed and revoked. I've achieved my objective. I'm happy with the outcome," she told The AP in a phone interview from her home in Cork, southwest Ireland.

Apparently hundreds, if not thousands, of Greek passport holders had been required to fill out forms demonstrating their fluency in Greek before they could board Aer Lingus flights from Spain and Portugal to Ireland.

On Jan. 6, Dislis, 48, had completed a six-day vacation in Barcelona with her husband and 10-year-old daughter when Aer Lingus' Spanish check-in desk contractors, Newco Aviation Services, pulled her aside because of her Greek passport. Her husband was traveling on a British passport, her daughter on an Irish one, and weren't bothered.

Dislis said the Newco officials took the family's bags off the plane and forced her to take tests in both Greek and English, then refused her request for photocopies. When her husband took photographs of the completed tests, they called the police.

She said a policewoman told the Newco officials to let them on the plane, but did insist they delete the test photos. Her husband did — but recovered them from the image bin later.

Aer Lingus told The AP it had been enacting a directive from the United Kingdom Border Agency issued in early 2011 that warned airlines about the increasing use of forged Greek passports by illegal immigrants in Spain and Portugal. The airline said the British agency supplied the tests, which asked a wide range of questions, including requests to sketch a ladder and a triangle.

The UK Border Agency has refused repeated AP requests to explain its language-testing advice to airlines, citing unspecified "security reasons."

One official at the agency, when asked if immigration officers seriously feared that illegal immigrants might start studying Greek to gain admission to Britain, said it was a genuine concern.

Dislis described the whole concept as farcically misguided.

She said her own children don't know any Greek, including a 20-year-old daughter who travels on a Greek passport. And she noted that her Greek test couldn't be checked for accuracy by the Newco officials — because none of them knew a single word of the language.

She expressed concern that other airlines in Europe, still observing the UK Border Agency directive, were continuing to make travelers fill out forms in their passport's mother tongue as a condition to fly.

Britain's immigration counterparts in the United States say they don't use language fluency to test the authenticity of a passport, because so many people worldwide hold passports thanks to the nationality of grandparents or other emigrant kin.

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid told The AP in a statement that American passport control officers consider language testing an inefficient, imprecise test "because many people hold passports from a country of birth where they haven't lived, or obtained citizenship through family ties."

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Associated Press writer Alan Clendenning in Madrid contributed to this report.

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