Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
If you think it is a tough time to be a traveller – with endless bureaucracy and drastically constrained horizons – spare a thought for people who work in the travel industry, and particularly airports.
Not only are they enduring a precarious existence with cash trickling away, they are also uncomfortably in the front line of administering an unprecedented tangle of red tape. Airline staff must verify that every passenger meets the rules imposed by the authorities in their destination. If they get it wrong, and inadvertently allow someone ineligible to fly, the company gets fined – the last thing any travel firm needs.
Last Sunday, for example, Angela and Robert Kennedy were denied boarding their Jet2 flight from Leeds Bradford to Ibiza. They had complied precisely with the requirements to take a Covid test before departure and complete Spain’s passenger locator form. But they fell foul of an entirely separate issue: passport validity after Brexit.
When the UK chose to leave the European Union, we became a “third country” and subject to some tricky rules on travel documents. Like so many of the consequences of Brexit, the effects have been masked by the coronavirus pandemic. Now that international travel is being grudgingly opened up, barriers are manifesting themselves.
According to the EU’s assessment of passport validity, Mr and Mrs Kennedy had five months left from the day they were due to return from the Mediterranean island.
“Sorry, you can’t travel”, Jet2 said. “Look”, the UK government says: “You need to have at least six months left.”
As I have said many times, it is the traveller’s responsibility to ensure they comply with the rules of the country they are visiting. Regrettably, though, the UK has wrongly interpreted the regulations for Spain and the rest of the Schengen Area.
You need three months’ validity from the day you intend to leave the zone. Why the government pretends otherwise is beyond me; I have repeatedly warned officials the advice is false and that people will be wrongly denied boarding. As it proved on Sunday.
When the Kennedys contacted me, understandably distressed and out of pocket, I contacted Jet2. To the firm’s considerable credit, within 24 hours they had agreed that the UK interpretation was incorrect and they would instead use the European Union rules. The couple were flown out with all the incidental costs covered by the holiday company, and Jet2 has urged the government to get its story straight.
Airports can be immensely stressful places at the best of times – particularly right now, with so many hidden hurdles to trip up the traveller. I fear that many flights to Malta, Mallorca and beyond are leaving with empty seats because befuddled passengers have failed to comply with vaccination or testing rules.
As travel unlocks later this month, with easier access for fully jabbed British travellers from “amber list” countries, the potential for upset will multiply. But please don’t take it out on the staff: they are doing their absolute best to get you away. With even the UK government compounding the confusion, everyone in travel’s front line deserves courtesy and respect.
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