Simon Calder: Lakes & Mountains ... and passport confusion

The man who pays his way

Summer in the city? Late July on the beach? While I plan to be among the hordes at the airport this weekend, to share in the impatient anticipation of precious time away, personally I prefer to escape the peak-season heat (if not prices) and aim for lakes, rivers and mountains.

You need not venture far to find fresh air, sparkling water and spectacular scenery. The Alps, Dolomites and Tatra mountains are waiting patiently and prettily in the postcard-perfect pages of Thomson's Lakes & Mountains programme. The eight beautiful European countries on offer are Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland. All nations, bar the last of these, are in the European Union, meaning your passport is valid up to its final breath on expiry day. And even though Switzerland remains aloof from the EU, it does not insist on any extended validity for travel documents; all the authorities stipulate is that you "must not pose a threat to public order and security". I've never met a Thomson Lakes & Mountains client who did.

Yet Thomson takes a tougher view on validity. Britain's biggest holiday company says passports "must be valid for six months from the date of your return to the UK". (You can check the rule at bit.ly/Sixmths, which leads to a web page inappropriately described as "Help".) So any Lakes & Mountains client planning to travel out today for a week, and whose British passport expires on or before 26 January next year, fails to qualify. That could mean sweat and tears for people heading for beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia.

The summer rush has an unwelcome twist this year, due to the backlog of passports awaiting renewal. For travellers whose documents are trapped in a bureaucratic black hole, the Monarch Travel Group says: "We are being as flexible as we can." Yet Thomson is adding to the problem by insisting that all customers need six months remaining on their passports, even though the immigration authorities in the vast majority of destinations do not require it.

Sharon Bloor of Manchester contacted The Independent because she is booked to fly next weekend to Tenerife with her husband and sons for a fortnight. The boys' passports expire in September. Unhappily, last Sunday she thought to call Thomson to make sure that their travel documents would be accepted. As Thomson knows well, all EU countries (and plenty more besides, including plucky Switzerland) are perfectly happy for British holidaymakers to stay right up to the expiry date of the passport. But Ms Bloor says she was told they were not acceptable. She felt obliged to make a Fast Track application, thus adding to the queue at the Passport Office. She is now £170 poorer, with the added stress of worrying whether the needlessly replaced passports would arrive in time.

Thomson is free to make whatever rules it wishes about its customers' documentation, however bizarre they may be. But it seems extraordinary that the giant holiday company should choose to make life difficult for travellers this summer. Telling people to renew documents unnecessarily early will lengthen passport queues. Fast Track applicants such as Sharon Bloor extend waiting times for other travellers.

Crossed lines

To see if the online stance is echoed by Thomson staff, I made a series of calls to the firm's customer-services desk. I said I had found a good deal to the Canaries: a self-catering week in Tenerife, leaving Birmingham on Sunday, £289 per person for a family of four. I added that my passport expires in September (a touch economical with the truth; it doesn't run out this September). I was variously and inaccurately assured that I needed between one and three months' validity left.

Three steps to Gatwick

How does Thomson respond? Let me share its full statement with you; the company declined to answer my further questions arising:

"The A-Z guide included in our terms and conditions provides information for customers when they book a holiday with us. In this text, we state that customers' passports should be valid for six months from the date they are due to return back to the UK as this is the maximum number of months' validity required across the countries we operate to.

"We always recommend customers check the passport office website for information specific to their destination.

"We do not refuse travel to any passenger if they have less than six months validity on their passport, as long as they meet the entry requirements of the destination."

If I may loosely interpret:

1. Frankly we can't be bothered to tell people the law that applies to their proposed trip, so instead we burden everyone with the worst-case scenario – and the needless stress and expense of complying with our arbitrary "guide".

2. In the guise of being helpful, we refer them spuriously to a third party: the Passport Office website. While it will tell you all sorts of things (including, curiously, how to prevent someone else getting a British passport), it does not offer advice on other countries' admission policies.

3. If you are sufficiently confident that we are, indeed, talking baloney, and you turn up at Gatwick for a European holiday with a passport that runs out in a couple of months, we won't bar you.

Thomson has grown to become Britain's biggest tour operator because it provides great holidays at reasonable prices; over the years, I have spent a fortune on its products (more than £3,000 last year alone). But given the apparent contempt that the holiday giant has for its customers, I may take my travel cash elsewhere.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee