Travel questions

I wasn’t allowed to travel – can I claim back the cost of my tickets?

Simon Calder answers your questions on the rights and wrongs of passport rules, Covid tests for the US, and his favourite European city

Friday 06 May 2022 18:01 BST
British travellers to Hungary are subject to new Brexit rules
British travellers to Hungary are subject to new Brexit rules (Getty)

Q I desperately need advice and help to properly construct a letter of complaint to Ryanair. On Thursday 28 April, they would not let me board not one, but two flights to Hungary. Why two? Well, I was so confident they were wrong first time around that I bought another ticket and tried again. I couldn’t travel with my family to a wedding, and it’s been devastating both emotionally and financially.

My passport was issued on 24 April 2012 but doesn’t expire until 2023. Is there any official document I can refer to? I have written to the Hungarian embassy, but they have not replied. If you could point me in the right direction I would really appreciate it.

Cecilia K

A I am sorry to say that you were extremely unlucky, but Ryanair was correct to bar you from the flight. I agree that it seems far from obvious that a passport valid until next year could possibly be useless for travel in April this year, but that is the inevitable consequence of Brexit. When the UK left the European Union, we asked to be subject to the “third country national” rules that were devised while we were members.

Uniquely, they consider the issue date of a passport as well as the expiry date. While it was fine to have a passport valid for more than 10 years while the UK was part of the EU, once out the rule is simply this: if your passport has celebrated its 10th birthday, you cannot come in.

Maddeningly, yours missed the deadline by a matter of a few days (though Ryanair has also been turning away people whose passports qualify, so there is no absolute certainty that you would have been allowed on).

Cases like yours are happening every single day, I am sorry to say. Neither the airline nor your travel insurer will offer any support: they both say the traveller is solely responsible for ensuring they are properly documented. If you want to construct a letter of complaint it would need to be aimed at the leaders of the Leave campaign and the negotiators of the withdrawal agreement.

Meanwhile, your passport is still good for travel anywhere else in the world, so don’t renew it unless you are planning more trips to the EU before it expires.

Most of the pressure to end the testing obligation comes from US airlines and tour operators
Most of the pressure to end the testing obligation comes from US airlines and tour operators (Getty)

Q I bet you wish you had a pound for every time you are asked this question: any indication of when the US will end the pre-arrival Covid test?


A The fact that I am replying from a backpackers’ hostel in southwestern Portugal rather than my mansion in Malibu indicates that I am not getting £1 each time someone enquires about the American testing requirement. It certainly ranks as the most frequently asked this year so far.

Since the US reopened to the British six months ago, travellers have been required to take a Covid test before they can board a transatlantic plane.

At present the test must be taken on the day of departure, or at any time on the previous day. It can be a simple, swift, lateral flow test – albeit professionally conducted, at a typical price of £30. The added cost and hassle is an annoyance to outbound travellers, with the added risk that you may test positive, in which case you will not be travelling.

That jeopardy also applies to Americans returning home. Indeed, most of the pressure to end the testing obligation comes from US airlines and tour operators. They say the test seriously deters outbound travel from the US and damages their businesses.

Inbound tourism organisations, including theme parks, car rental firms and hotels, would also like it removed. The ideal time to do so, they say, would be ahead of the main summer surge of international travel to the US. Around now, in fact.

Against all those pressures, though, is the profound inertia in the heart of the federal government about easing travel restrictions. By any sensible analysis of infection rates, British holidaymakers, family visitors and business travellers should have been allowed back into the US a good six months before the frontiers finally opened. Instead, the White House kept the barriers up until the lowest of seasons: November 2021.

While pre-departure testing is being abolished by other countries in the competitive reopening of international tourism, I am not optimistic of change before the end of the summer. September or October seems most likely to me. But I hope I am proved wrong.

This great capital city, in the news almost every day, will see better days again and is top of my list
This great capital city, in the news almost every day, will see better days again and is top of my list (Getty)

Q Which is your all-time favourite European city?

J Middleton

A What a delicious question to be asked. The great European classics deserve a mention, of course: my list is Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Venice. But while all of them are rightly celebrated and much-visited, my answer lies elsewhere.

As I trawled through my memory banks and mental map of Europe, I wrote down no fewer than 25 candidates immediately. In no particular order (as they say on The X Factor), they are: Porto, Granada, Malaga, Newcastle, Belfast, Edinburgh, Luxembourg, Krakow, Bergen, Heidelberg, Naples, Cagliari, Palermo, Nice, Salzburg, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Dubrovnik, Thessaloniki, Tallinn, Kyiv, Odesa, Istanbul and Tbilisi.

Common to all is a spectacular, wide-screen location combined with handsome architecture and close-up beauty, along with deep history and vibrant culture, friendly locals, and great places to eat, drink and stay. I urge you to visit each and every one, and I would return to any of them in a heartbeat. Just writing their names brings happy recollections of sights, sounds and flavours.

My shortlist, though, comprises the easternmost five: Istanbul, Kyiv, Odesa, Tallinn and Tbilisi are thrillingly exotic to British senses. Since I must narrow the choice still further, I shall dispense with the first and last, Istanbul and Tbilisi, to avoid heckles of the “But are they really in Europe?” variety. The sheer good looks of Tallinn and Odesa decorate the Baltic and Black Sea respectively. But there can be only one winner, and it must be the Ukrainian capital.

As I hope millions of tourists will discover when it is safe to visit, Kyiv is vast yet accessible, decorated with exquisite churches, heroic architecture and monuments to courage. Tourism will be vital to help the Ukrainians rebuild, and I can’t wait to return.

The port city of Mahon, capital of Menorca
The port city of Mahon, capital of Menorca (Simon Calder)

Q Another passport question for you – but a little bit different this time. I am travelling to Menorca on 8 July 2022. My passport was issued on 12 August 2012 and expires early next year. I asked the travel company whether my passport was valid. I was told that Brexit rules meant the passport would actually expire on 12 August 2022.

The firm also claimed I needed “at least three months’ validity after the day you plan to leave”, and therefore that I could not travel after 11 May 2022. On this basis I spent quite a long time finding an appointment at a passport office around 100 miles away for a fast-track, one-week service.

I now understand from what you have written that I was told complete rubbish by the travel firm, and that I have wasted time and money. Can I claim for the extra cost of a fast-track passport (£142 instead of £75.50) and the expense of reaching the passport office?

Name supplied

A This kind of scenario is annoying on three counts. First, that a professional travel company appears to be unable to interpret and communicate the post-Brexit passport validity rules correctly for the benefit of its customers (I even tried to help out a little myself, by supplying all the big operators with the precise regulations along with correspondence from the European Commission to support them).

Next, that you expended time, cash and stress on a problem that simply didn’t exist and was entirely of the travel company’s making.

Third, and most importantly, that your decision to grab a fast-track appointment, while completely understandable in the circumstances, has inadvertently deprived someone who desperately needed a passport from obtaining one. All the evidence I have is that demand for premium passport application slots vastly outweighs availability.

I am doing what I can to reduce the pressure by imploring people who don’t need renewals to leave premium slots to those in serious need, but it is made more difficult by parts of the travel industry (and, regrettably, the media) misrepresenting the rules.

Anyway, I believe the travel company should refund your costs without question, to avoid being pursued under the Consumer Rights Act. This requires companies to exercise “reasonable care and skill” – which clearly didn’t happen in this case.

Email your question to or tweet @simoncalder

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