Out-of-date passport? That'll do nicely, ma'am

One traveller was amazed when her airline allowed her to fly to Spain without the proper documents

We've all been there. We've spent so much time cramming holiday clothes into our suitcase, converting currency and rushing to the airport that we reach the check-in desk having failed to pack the most vital item of all: a valid passport.

We've all been there. We've spent so much time cramming holiday clothes into our suitcase, converting currency and rushing to the airport that we reach the check-in desk having failed to pack the most vital item of all: a valid passport.

Thousands of us find ourselves in this predicament every year. Either we've packed a passport that has passed its expiry date - or worse still, we've failed to pack a passport at all. Whether you are then allowed on to the plane or not seems to come down to the whim of the airline. Inconsistency is rife when it comes to dealing with the passport-less traveller.

I arrived at Gatwick to board a flight to Barcelona recently, armed with little more than sunglasses, a bikini and an out-of-date passport. I was shocked when I was allowed to travel. I was merely warned that I might have a difficult time re-entering Britain on my scheduled flight five days later.

It seems that I unwittingly benefited from a little known, reciprocal European scheme, under which holders of expired British passports are awarded a six-month "grace period". Although the Passport Agency denies that the scheme exists, it was confirmed to me by a British Airways spokeswoman, Camilla Wrey. "The six-month rule varies from country to country," she said. "We would advise all of our passengers to have the correct documents with them because, at the end of the day, gaining entry without the valid documents will depend on what mood the immigration officer is in. But passengers are legally entitled to travel within Europe during that six-month period and we would allow such a passenger to board a plane. But we couldn't guarantee what would happen at the other end."

In spite of evidence to the contrary, Mark Williams of the Passport Agency was adamant that "no British citizens will under any circumstances be allowed to travel overseas without a valid passport."

Such rules therefore are obviously far from clear-cut. A spokeswoman for Brittany Ferries said "we would not let anyone travel abroad with us, under any circumstances, unless they were in possession of a valid passport". But Eurostar was non-committal. "It's not our decision," said a spokesman. "It's up to the immigration authorities."

Then there are those passengers who benefit from carelessness at passport control. Donald Clark flew from Gatwick to New York and back using a passport that was more than six months out of date. "I'd mistakenly picked up my old passport rather than my new one," he said. "At Gatwick, they didn't even notice. Then, when I arrived at JFK, the officials there spotted it immediately. But after I explained what had happened and that I was in New York on business, they let me in. I was questioned again at JFK when I went to board my flight back to Britain, but after explaining what had happened I was allowed to fly. Again at Gatwick, no one noticed it was out of date. Being tall, white and in a suit certainly helped."

Mr Clark's experience contrasted with that of Victoria Ing, who recently arrived at Stansted for a flight to Madrid, having mistakenly picked up her 16-year-old daughter's out-of-date passport. The airline, British Airways' low-fare subsidiary Go, refused her entry not because the passport she was carrying was her daughter's - nobody even noticed that - but because it had recently expired. "In the end, my husband and eight-year-old son had to fly to Madrid without me," said Mrs Ing. "I had to go home, pick up the right passport and then wait for a flight the next morning. I was surprised there was so much inflexibility, especially as I was travelling to an EC country."

That's a common misconception. In spite of membership of the EC, Britons travelling to Europe still need their passports, because, an EC spokesman said, "we simply don't have any other universal type of ID in Britain. Obviously, even when travelling within Europe, the passenger needs to be able to prove that they are who they say they are. In order to do that they need to produce reliable photo ID." So don't leave yours at home.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map