Tens of thousands of British travellers face being turned away from holiday and business flights to the US this summer, due to a little-publicised new rule introduced last month.
Anyone without a biometric passport is now ineligible to travel to America without a visa - even if they have been granted an “Esta”, online permission to visit the US.
Vic Ryan from Lincoln was due to fly to to Florida on 1 May, along with his wife and his daughter and her boyfriend. He had applied in good time for an “Esta”, which was granted.
But when he arrived at check-in he was told that as his passport was non-biometric, he would not be allowed to travel.
“We had no notification of this change which apparently came into force on 1 April,” he told The Independent. “We made the decision for the rest of my party to go without me and I would come home.”
Mr Ryan was told to get a new passport, which he could not do until Tuesday because of the bank holiday. “There were a number of people at East Midlands Airport in the same situation as me but help was virtually non-existent,” he said.
The Independent has calculated that as many as 80,000 people planning to fly to the US this summer could have non-biometric passports. The new “ePassport,” containing an electronic chip with personal data, was introduced in the spring of 2007. They are readily identifiable from the front cover - if it features a rectangle bisected by a horizontal line, with a circle in the middle, then it is biometric.
The last old-style passports were issued in autumn 2007. Using figures from the Passport Office, the Office of National Statistics and the Foreign Office, The Independent has calculated that 1.3m are still in use. As just over 6 per cent of all the overseas trips by British citizens are to the US, 80,000 people are at risk of being denied boarding.
Mr Ryan has now joined his family in Florida. He said: “This has so far cost me over £500 extra."
Airlines and tour operators make it clear that passengers are responsible for complying with passport and visa rules. The change was quietly introduced in the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015. Disappointed passengers are angry that the US authorities and the travel industry have not done more to alert travellers to the new rule.
“All it needed was for Thomson to run a report from their database for people travelling to the US from 1 April,” said Mr Ryan. “That would enable them to send a courtesy email to notify people who had already booked - possibly like us, a year in advance.”
Thomson told The Independent: “Given this is a recent change and to help customers, we will review if we can highlight the requirement of an electronic passport on relevant customer communications.”
British Airways said: “The week before our customers travel to the US, we also send a reminder email recommending they check they have the right documentation, with links to detailed information on the changes on the Department for Homeland Security website.”
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