Out-of-date passport?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I arrived at Gatwick to board a flight to Barcelona recently, armed with little more than sunglasses, a bikini and an out-of-date passport.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.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
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

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture