Passport rules: ‘Escorted through the airport like a criminal’

Travellers share their experiences of getting caught out by the EU’s 10-year-passport rule.
Passport rules: 'Escorted through the airport like a criminal'
Jane Opher and her partnerMike Merchant

Disappointed holidaymakers whose EU travel plans were ruined when they were caught out by the “10-year-passport rule” have been speaking to the BBC.

Until 2018, UK travellers could transfer up to nine months from an old passport on to a new one. But post-Brexit, EU countries will not accept passports more than 10 years old.

Those who were unaware of the change were turned away by passport control.

Some were able to rebook trips, but no one we spoke to was reimbursed.

‘Escorted back through the airport like a criminal’

Jane Opher, 61, in London, said she was “traumatised” after being told she and her partner couldn’t board their flight to Barcelona at Gatwick in February, even though they’d checked in online.

“I was just saying to my partner that I must renew my passport soon, as we walked along the bridge to get to the boarding gate. It was very stressful and humiliating to have to be escorted back through the airport like a criminal,” she said.

Jane, who used to live in Barcelona and was travelling to see friends, was left hundreds of pounds out of pocket after having to rearrange the trip with her partner.

The architect spent about £400 on last minute replacement flights and a fast tracked passport.

She says the issue with her passport was “a technicality” the airlines should be able to deal with.

“I feel lucky I was going on holiday and it wasn’t an urgent visit like a funeral.

“As someone who used to live in Spain, I feel angry that I cannot go to Spain as easily as I used to,” she added.

‘At first we thought she was joking’

Lara Barnes and her husband pose in front of a cruise ship

Lara Barnes, 57, based on the Isle of Man, was due to travel to Majorca last October but her husband was denied boarding and they lost £1,200 they had spent on the holiday.

“We had no reason to believe the passport wouldn’t be valid,” she said. “At first we thought the woman at the check-in was joking.”

She said staff at Liverpool Airport “told us this had been a ruling since Brexit and we should know better”.

“It was disappointing for us as our son had paid for half of the holiday as a Christmas present.”

The couple were due to go on a cruise the following January and had all the paperwork ready to renew the passport when they got back from Majorca.

Presentational grey line

Are you affected by the 10-year rule?

  • Check if your passport was issued before September 2018
  • Has it passed its 10-year anniversary? Even if it has several months left to run, it is invalid for travel to all EU countries with the exception of Ireland as well as Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland
  • If you are going to these countries you must have a passport issued less than 10 years before your departure date
  • If your passport is invalid you can try to book an emergency appointment online at your nearest passport office which offers a one-day and a one-week fast track service
  • Otherwise passports can be renewed online by HM Passport Office or by using a paper application from certain Post Offices
  • It can take up to three weeks to renew a passport from the UK

Presentational grey line

‘Unfair, illogical ruling’

John, 73, a healthcare worker based near Portsmouth, was due to fly to Tenerife in January for a New Year break with friends. He only found out at the last minute that his wife’s passport “fell foul of the 10-year rule”.

He called the rule “ridiculous”, saying there were no warnings and zero interest from the company they booked with.

“We lost the whole lot after booking through TUI. They organise the flights and hotel. That’s it. You lose the lot because you can’t get on the plane. It’s nothing more than a trick.

“The total burden of this issue falls on the individual holidaymaker. The travel company have got your money, they can pay off the airline and hotel, who may be able to resell the plane tickets and the accommodation, but even if they can’t, they’re quids in.

“The travel company get their cut too, so there’s no incentive on anyone to redress this unfair, illogical ruling,” John said.

A TUI spokesperson told the BBC they were “sorry to hear of customers who were unable to travel with TUI as planned due the UK government passport requirements”.

They added: “Customers are given ample warning that their passports must follow the UK government’s passport requirements when travelling abroad, via our website and within direct customer communications including booking confirmations.”

Howard Kirrane smiling

‘We lost almost £2,000 on a Mediterranean cruise’

Last April, Howard Kirrane and his wife were about to check in at the port in Southampton but his passport was not valid. They both had to take their bags off the ship and go back home to Portsmouth.

“I contacted the ombudsman and banks to try and get money back but all they said was it was up to me to sort out my passport. That was very expensive,” the 69-year-old said.

The couple lost all of the money they had spent on their Mediterranean cruise holiday – almost £2,000.

“I could’ve travelled to the US but not across the water,” Howard added.

He said he applied for a new passport the same night and it arrived two weeks later.

‘It felt like somebody pulling a battery out your back’

The confusion over passport issue dates and EU travel isn’t anything new, as Jacqualyn Lee from Nottingham pointed out.

In autumn 2021, the 79-year-old lost £2,000 on a cruise from Barcelona to the Canary Islands when told at the airport that her husband’s passport was issued more than 10 years prior.

The couple had to call off the trip and were unable to claim money from their insurance for the flights or the cruise.

“It just felt like somebody pulling a battery out of your back, you don’t know how to react. I thought ‘oh OK, we’ll just go home then’.

“We booked another holiday straight away just to get it out of our system, what was done was done,” she recalled.

Before travelling, Jacqualyn had checked in with the cruise company and gave both her and her husband’s passport details to travel agents where no issues were raised.

“I did try to get the money back but the insurers didn’t want to know about it. Now that £2,000 would pay for a lot of gas and electricity for retired people like us,” she said.

A government spokesperson told the BBC: “Following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, we ran an information campaign to help British travellers prepare for changes when visiting Europe, including on passport rules.

“The government’s online travel advice for EU countries sets out the requirements and is kept under constant review to ensure British travellers have accurate information to help plan their trip. We advise all customers not to book travel without a passport that meets their travel needs.”

Additional reporting by Emma Pengelly

Source: bbc.co.uk

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