Before Britain's EU Departure, We Fly To Some European Destinations

Jul 14, 2016
Originally published on July 14, 2016 1:02 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The battle of Britain is just beginning. It's a fight for the United Kingdom to get out of the European Union without losing too many of the privileges of membership. And that includes the privilege of free travel. Flights are inexpensive in Europe. There are few border checks. It's quick. NPR's Planet Money podcast has assessed the value of that free travel. Robert Smith went to four cities in 12 hours, starting in London.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Europeans take this kind of travel for granted. My cab driver to the airport bragged about the tickets he got to Copenhagen for only 15 bucks.

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IZMET TUKOLO: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SMITH: Did you even want to go to Copenhagen?

TUKOLO: For that price, it's crazy not to go.

SMITH: I will say doing four cities in half a day means you never really leave the airport. But it is possible to meet all of Europe in those airports.

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SMITH: If you ever wondered what the inside of an X-ray machine sounds like, I'm going to leave this on.

My first flight - easyJet to Paris. Because this is essentially a breakup story, I wanted to find someone in Paris who was still taking the Brexit vote hard. I see a sad face in the smoking room, Laurent Abitbol (ph) - slick hair, skinny cigarette.

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LAURENT ABITBOL: It was, like, cool to have England part of our life. And I'm quite afraid that the same kind of things are going to happen in France.

SMITH: It's like how a friend's divorce can make you worry about your own marriage. Abitbol says French politicians love to focus voter anger at the EU.

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ABITBOL: To say the reason why we can't give you money is because of Europe. The reason why you need to be paid less is because of Europe. So when you - for years you say that, people at the end think you're right.

SMITH: He puts out the cigarette, and we head together onto my second flight - Paris to Copenhagen on a cheap Spanish airline I had never heard of before.

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SMITH: Vueling (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Vueling, yeah.

SMITH: Vueling.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Vueling.

SMITH: Vueling.

And once in Copenhagen, time for an airport hot dog, a lovely tour of Terminal 3, and I run into Tessa DeSmit (ph). She lives outside of Brussels, sells heart monitors. She's got a different take on the breakup. DeSmit says that it felt like the U.K. was always a little wary of commitment. They never adopted the euro currency, she points out. And like any ex, she's torn about the U.K.

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TESSA DESMIT: Will they be happier? That's a question. If they are actually going to be better off, then the EU should be worried.

SMITH: They're like, we have all these jobs. We're so rich.

DESMIT: Yeah.

SMITH: We're so happy. Our lives are better.

DESMIT: Then it will be very bad for the EU.

SMITH: DeSmit has to board to Brussels, but I have another final destination in mind - Norway. Bergen, Norway.

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SMITH: Is that a fjord?

TORBERG WERGELAND: Yes.

SMITH: That's a fjord?

WERGELAND: That's a fjord, yeah.

SMITH: I think that's my first fjord. I pictured them to be more dramatic, but it's a beautiful fjord.

WERGELAND: Yeah, a small one.

SMITH: A small fjord.

WERGELAND: Yes.

SMITH: I wanted this discount flight to Norway because it offers a third way of looking at the breakup. Norway voted a long time ago not to join the EU. But it pays money to the EU just to be in the club, inside the single market. Think of it as exes with benefits. My seatmate, Torberg Wergeland (ph), he sells Norwegian granite to the rest of Europe.

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SMITH: So you are the granite king of western Norway.

WERGELAND: One of them. There is many of them. But we are selling 3 million ton a year to Europe.

SMITH: Three million ton a year of rock from here.

WERGELAND: Yes.

SMITH: Wergeland says it's an awesome deal. He says the U.K. may want to try it. Norway gets all the perks of the EU without the commitment. There's a catch, though. In order to sell his rock to Europe, Norway has to let in European workers, which is fine with him. But he says it may be more immigration than the British want to deal with.

Just like the rest of the Europeans I spoke to in the air, he isn't sure anymore what the citizens of the U.K. want right now, except, perhaps, to head home. The last cheap flight out of Bergen goes to London, leaves in an hour. Robert Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.