Be careful what you wish for – especially when it comes to passport rules

Waiting game: British travellers are now subject to a wide range of rules on journeys to Europe  (Simon Calder)
Waiting game: British travellers are now subject to a wide range of rules on journeys to Europe (Simon Calder)

This weekly column began in 1994. I calculate today’s is number 1,572. Never has there been a weekend when I have been stumped for a subject: the travel industry is constantly changing, innovating and faltering. Sometimes, the thing writes itself – or, even better, readers do the work for me. And so it has proved today.

The context: prospective travellers are being turned away from airports because they inadvertently fail to comply with the passport rules for visits to the European Union.

After Brexit, we asked to be subject to the “non-visa third country” conditions for entry to the EU and wider Schengen area. These require your passport to meet two tests:

  • Under 10 years old since issue date on the day you go in.

  • At least three months before expiry date on the day you plan to leave.

I regularly publicise these conditions on social media, especially ahead of busy travel times. Each time, I get a barrage of responses – mostly contradicting my version of events. So allow me to give you a sample of the latest crop, and my view on them.

Jon Clodd: “This is nothing new, I got refused entry onto a ferry to Spain in 2014 because of an expired passport.”

That would have been because your passport had expired. The issue here is about passports that are in date and valid for travel to a wide range of nations – including the US, Australia and Tunisia – but which nevertheless cannot be used for travel to the EU.

Sara Lockwood: “Post-Brexit? These rules have been in place for years.”

Yes, the regulations about passport validity are long-standing – and the UK helped draw them up. But what is novel is our decision to request that we are treated in the same way as the fine citizens of Tonga and Venezuela.

Before Brexit, it was simple: your passport was valid for travel in the EU and wider Schengen area up to and including the expiry date. Not anymore.

Brian Read: “Many carriers insist on six months to expiry date.”

If they do – and wrongly deny you boarding – then you can claim for cash compensation in addition to recompense for additional costs. Most regrettably, easyJet and Ryanair continued to apply the wrong rules for many months, resulting in many passengers being wrongly denied boarding, until they finally agreed to accept The Independent’s version of the regulations.

David Smith: “Some passports have more than 10 years from issue to expiry but that extra duration doesn’t count.”

This is the same issue that J P White puts in a different way: “Passports are not 10 years – they are effectively nine-year nine-month passports.” One reason the two giant budget airlines got things wrong for so long was that the UK government misrepresented the rules – suggesting that three months needed to be subtracted from 10 years. That was never the case, and it is unfortunate that some in the travel industry continue to pretend that it is.

Sam Williams: “I thought they were the standard rules everywhere.”

The only region of the world that cares when your passport was issued is the European Union and wider Schengen area. I am concerned that travellers to dozens of other countries – such as Turkey, Morocco and Mexico – are fearful that their passport is not recognised after 10 years.

Charles Forsyth: “If the EU27 were sensible they would continue as before.”

That is not quite how it works in international negotiations. If a country insists on leaving a union of nations and taking on all the consequences of doing so, the union has no choice but to impose those rules. It is possible that a new government might seek to renegotiate on the UK’s status, but to “continue as before” is not an option.

The leading Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom, promised: “Our future, and that of our children and grandchildren, will be so much better outside the EU. My ambition will be to guide our country to the sunlit uplands.” Well, we’re here. Be careful what you wish for.

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.