Passport damage could cost Britons their next holiday

The Independent investigates after man is turned away from Tui flight

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 03 September 2019 15:42 BST

The news that a 22-year-old man missed out on a family holiday to the Caribbean because his passport had a small rip in it has highlighted the issue of damaged passports.

James Adams had got as far as the boarding gate at Gatwick airport with his parents and brother and sister to catch their Tui flight to Aruba when he was denied boarding.

James, a welder from Suffolk, had successfully used the passport several times recently with no problems.

James’s mother, Claire, called the experience “awful”, telling The Sun: “The most obnoxious woman came over, she was shouting from across the airport, ‘He’s not travelling, he won’t get in Aruba. He’s not going.’”

She said her husband went into shock while her daughter was crying and James himself became “agitated”.

“I was trying to calm him down because I didn’t want him to get arrested,“ Claire added.

Following pressure from the airline worker, it was decided the two sons would stay at home while the rest of the family got on the plane.

So what are the rules when it comes to passport damage?

What is a “damaged” passport?

According to HM Passport Office, a damaged passport is one which isn’t in a fit condition to be accepted as proof of identity. Damage can include:

  • Indecipherable details
  • The laminate has lifted enough to allow the possibility of photo substitution
  • Discolouration to the bio-data page
  • Chemical or ink spillage on any page
  • Missing or detached pages
  • The chip or antenna shows through the end paper on the back cover for the new style e-passports
  • The chip has been identified as damaged after investigation

What about wear and tear?

Normal wear and tear is expected and shouldn’t count as damage – but what is deemed “normal”?

HM Passport Office says: “When deciding whether a passport falls under wear and tear, examiners should look at the travel history of the document – multiple visas and stamps would indicate heavy use. Wear and tear is therefore more likely.

“Passports classed as wear and tear can be accepted as evidence of nationality and identity.”

What are airlines’ rules?

Airlines typically say: “We may decide to refuse to carry you or your baggage if the following has happened or we reasonably believe may happen ... you have not, or do not appear to have, valid travel documents.”

They may be more likely to err on the side of caution as they can incur fines for allowing a passenger to fly with inadequate documentation; these average $3,500 (£2,780) per passenger.

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If denied boarding, you would have to take the airline to court to attempt to get compensation and, as this is an area where definitions of a damaged passport vary greatly, it wouldn’t be straightforward.

What about getting an emergency passport renewal?

If you suspect your damaged passport could stop you from flying, the best thing to do is replace it – but bear in mind, if sufficiently damaged you won’t be eligible for the premium fast track service. This costs more and enables those who need a new passport urgently to book an emergency appointment within a few days, during which they’ll get their renewed travel document. However, damaged passports require more checks and therefore the process takes the usual three weeks.

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