Istanbul is popular destination for British tourists
Istanbul is popular destination for British tourists

Turkey toughens rules for British holidaymakers - or does it?

A Sussex family were prevented from boarding a flight to Antalya - turned away because one of their passports was due to expire in seven months

Simon Calder
Friday 11 September 2015 18:54

According to the Foreign Office, British holidaymakers heading for Turkey face a “high threat of terrorism”. Yet tough new rules on passport validity mean they may not even get there.

A Sussex family lost £2,000 when they were prevented from boarding an easyJet flight from Gatwick to Antalya. They were turned away because one of their passports was due to expire in seven months. Britain’s biggest budget airline insisted passports needed at least eight months’ validity remaining, citing Turkey’s new “Law on Foreigners and International Protection”.

The rules may comprise the most stringent such stipulation in the world. The maximum validity that other non-EU countries insist upon is usually six months.

Paul Jukes and his family, from Brighton, had obtained their visas online in accordance with easyJet’s instructions. They checked in as normal for their end-of-summer holiday. But they were denied boarding because Alfie Jukes, aged 12, had only seven months remaining on his passport.

“The easyJet staff removed our bags from the hold. They told us that Turkish passport control required two months’ validity after the expiry date of the visa, so in effect eight months’ validity. They said that even if they let us on the plane we would be refused entry to the country.”

That assertion was quickly disproved. Mr Jukes spent £2,000 on new tickets on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, flying out on the same day. “All was absolutely fine and there were no issues with the passport or visa,” said Mr Jukes.

Istanbul has been the site of much political protest over the last few years

The case has revealed deep confusion among airlines, holiday companies and even the Turkish authorities about what the new rules actually mean.

Turkey’s visa-issuing authority says: “Your travel document must be valid for at least six months from the date you intend to enter Turkey.” It routinely grants visas that allow entry to Turkey at any time in the next six months. But the new law says: “Foreigners wishing to enter Turkey should carry a passport with an expiration date at least 60 days beyond the duration of stay of their visa.”

The muddle arises because it is unclear whether the 60-day clock starts ticking from the day they plan to fly to Turkey, or from the very last date shown on the visa.

The Foreign Office assumes the worse case and warns British travellers to Turkey: “Your passport may need to have eight months’ validity at the time your visa is issued”.

When Mr Jukes complained to easyJet about his family’s treatment at Gatwick, the airline referred him to the Foreign Office advice. The airline had originally told him only that six months was required on each passport.

Mr Jukes said: “We followed the information easyJet had provided and we gained the necessary visas. I do not know anyone that then also scours the internet to double-check if the airline has provide all the information or not.”

A spokeswoman for easyJet told The Independent: “Ground staff take decisions on whether a passenger’s documentation is valid for travel using an industry system called Traveldocs.

"On this occasion additional advice from the Government has been taken into account which, while relevant and correct, is not usually applied. We will relook at this specific case again in light of this and will get back in touch with the passenger.”

Turkey's incoherent rules lead to contradictory interpretations, with other airlines requiring passports to have only five or six months remaining.

A researcher from The Independent called other major travel providers to ask if she could visit Turkey on a passport due to expire in seven months. Thomson and Thomas Cook, the main package-holiday operators to Turkey, said six months’ validity was sufficient. So did Turkish Airlines and Pegasus, both based in Istanbul. British Airways requires only 150 days from the arrival date - roughly five months.

The Independent has made repeated requests for clarification to both the Turkish Consulate and the Turkish Tourism and Information Office in London. Both declined to respond.

Increased political tension and sporadic terrorist attacks in Turkey have dented British holidaymakers’ confidence in travelling to the country.

On the eve of the August bank holiday, an upmarket Turkey specialist tour operator, Exclusive Escapes, went bust. The collapse was blamed by the directors on "Turkey’s geo-political situation.”

Besides the fall in visitors from western Europe, Turkey has been hit by a sharp decline in tourists from Russia because of that country’s economic downturn.

“Numbers have fallen off a cliff,” said a senior travel-industry figure, “and this visa confusion is digging an even deeper hole.”

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