By now, Edward Pearson and Alexandra Robah should be halfway along the Karakorum highway between Pakistan and China - but no thanks to Gulf Air.

On 3 July, the pair set off from their home on the Isle of Wight to catch a Gulf Air flight to Karachi. They had checked twice with the Pakistani Embassy in London that no visas were required for British visitors staying up to 30 days. But the Gulf Air check-in staff thought differently, even though their computer data supported the travellers' story. 'A day later,' says Mr Pearson, 'the Pakistani Embassy again confirmed what we thought, and said they'd had trouble with Gulf Air before.' The embassy gave them immediate visas and they managed to get seats on the next day's flight.

Airlines are understandably concerned that passengers carry appropriate documentation. Not only are they obliged to repatriate 'offenders', they often face a fine, too. The Home Office collects pounds 2,000 every time an airline brings a passenger without the right paperwork into Britain. In the seven years since the Carriers Liability Act took effect, the Government has earned pounds 66m.

Consequently check-in staff act as untrained immigration officers, assessing a passenger's eligibility to enter a country of destination. To avoid problems, check with the embassy and the airline before flying outside Europe. If doubts remain, get a visa. Even if the airline allows you to board the plane, that is no guarantee you will be persona grata. And being deported, as I once was from Honduras back to El Salvador, does not make for a happy holiday.

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