The travel correspondent of The Independent was last seen boarding an Avanti West Coast train from London Euston, shortly before the West Coast main line slipped into a vortex of perplexity due to a signalling failure at Crewe.
But before communication was lost, Simon Calder had time to tackle your pressing travel questions.
Q: My passport runs out in September, and I clearly need to apply for a new one. But while I am waiting for the new one, can I travel on my existing passport?
A: The short answer is no: assuming you will apply online (which, these difficult days, is the only way I recommend to renew a UK passport), then you will be asked to post in your existing passport. At which point you are grounded and can do little more than hope for the best.
The perils of passport renewal are haunting many people at the moment: HM Passport Office says you need to allow 10 weeks even for a simple replacement. For those who travel abroad frequently – whether on holiday, for family visits, on business or a combination – that immediately presents a problem. Straightforward renewals are generally taking three weeks or less, but that cannot be relied upon. People who travel frequently are in a very difficult position (one in 70 passport applications are currently failing to make it back within the 10-week target). Fast-track and same-day appointments are extremely scarce.
If you really need to have a passport available at all times, then it is legally possible – with supporting evidence – to obtain a second one. Right now, with so much uncertainty about the time it will take, that looks a sensible way to proceed. The easiest way to prove your need for a second passport is an explanation from your employer as to why you need it.
One question I should ask: does your passport really run out in September? Some people have been fooled by false assertions that UK passports expire exactly 10 years after their issue date. While some of them do, many do not. What is correct is that since Brexit, British travellers are treated by the EU as “third country nationals” – meaning that you cannot enter with a passport that has had its 10th birthday.
Q: I applied for my daughter’s first passport nearly 10 weeks ago, and we’re due to go on holiday on 3 June. I can cancel our accommodation and transfers a few days before departure, but where do I stand on flights? If the passport isn’t returned in time, how can I get my money back?
A: 1. Once 10 weeks has elapsed, you can immediately demand escalation from the Passport Advice Line, and hopefully the passport will arrive.
2 If you still don’t get the passport, and it is demonstrably the fault of HM Passport Office, then you should be able to recoup your lost costs.
Q: Travelling 28 May 2022 to Spain returning 4 July. Passport issued 5 July 2022 and expires 5 April 23. Can you confirm this is OK?
A: The conditions for entry of a British passport holder to the EU (and wider Schengen Area, including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) are these:
- Issue date less than 10 years ago on day of entry to EU.
- Expiry date at least three months away on intended day of return.
So of course you can travel. The limit for use of your passport is: travel out by 4 July 2022, and stay up to 90 days (as a result of a different European Union rule that we asked to be applied to us), which would take you to the start of October.
Your passport will then continue to be valid for many other countries up to and including its expiry date.
Q: I am off to Turkey in 2 August 2022 for two weeks. My passport was issued on 21 January 2013 and expires on 21 February 2023.
Does the “10 year rule” on passport validity apply to Turkey? If so I would only have five months remaining, Can you clarify?
A: No country outside the European Union (and wider Schengen area, including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland but certainly not Turkey) cares about the issue date of a passport. You can travel to Turkey up to 21 August 2022, so you will be just fine. Have a great trip.
The preposterous notion that passports expire after 10 years is is one of the 10 myths that I have written about for The Independent.
I am really concerned about the damaging misinformation that appears on social media, and (I am sorry to say) mainstream media and from parts of the travel industry. Not only does it cause stress for many prospective travellers – by persuading people to renew passports when they don’t need to, it increases risk. A renewal might get stuck in the system, and any unnecessary renewals add to the pressure on HM Passport Office.
Q: Desperately need help. My 18-year-old daughter started university in Pittsburgh. Due to Covid she had to travel alone. We booked a BA through ticket from London Heathrow to Pittsburgh with AA picking up the flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh. Once at the gate to board the plane from Chicago to Pittsburgh the flight was cancelled.
She was put on standby for next flight. She didn’t get to go on next flight because a platinum ticket holder took her place and she was put on standby for next flight which was the following day. We tried to get accommodation but because she was under the age of 21 years she couldn’t book a room. She was left stranded and had to sleep on the terminal floor with us watching her all night on Facetime.
BA said it’s nothing to do with them and AA say it was cancelled due to weather (although a flight later that evening did go but she wasn’t offered a seat). My daughter’s safety was put at risk. Who should be dealing with my complaint.
A: Really sorry to hear this. Because this issue was the responsibility of American Airlines, I urge you to contact the carrier’s customer service department to ask for an explanation. If that doesn’t produce a suitable response, try British Airways (though you may find that BA bats you back to AA). And failing that, get back in touch with me.
Q: Asking for advice for the future when our vaccine certificates look like they will be considered out of date. Will all of us be prevented from travelling to these countries (eg France, Portugal, Spain and many more) once our last booster was done more than six months ago?
A: While I can understand concerns about Covid rules for travellers, right now the prospect of European nations imposing expiry dates on booster jabs is very low on my list of worries. The standard EU policy is for initial courses of vaccinations to expire after 270 days (almost nine months), but a booster has no limit to validity.
Q: I am due to travel to Ibiza on 10 June. My vaccinations have passed the 270 days required to enter Spain and I don’t wish to receive the booster. Is a negative PCR test sufficient to enter the Spanish Island?
A: I certainly won’t ask about your concerns about the Covid-19 booster vaccination, but as you realise many countries which require proof of jabs are not interested in an initial course that ended more than 270 days ago.
The official information I have for Spain says that the only alternative full vaccination (which includes a booster if over 270 days since the initial course) is a certificate of recovery from Covid-19 in the past six months. The testing alternative is available only for people aged 12-17. If you do not have a recovery certificate, for a trip to Ibiza in June a booster will be an essential. You can have one any time up to your departure – there is no requirement for a gap between the jab and your arrival in Spain.
Having said that, on Friday morning there are rumours of an imminent relaxation of the rules by the Spanish authorities.
Q: I was due to board a 6.30am plane from Stansted to Sofia. But the assistance lift, which allows me to access the plane, did not arrive at the boarding gate until after the flight was closed. The next flight was 4.35pm, which left me with a 10-hour wait. I was taken to the Escape Lounge but there was no place to lay flat. I boarded the plane at 4pm but it did not take off until 6pm. Due to the extreme pain I was in I had to book a hotel in Sofia rather than journey on to my destination.
What are my rights?
A: This sounds an awful experience. It appears that you were effectively denied boarding and therefore qualify for £350 in cash compensation. Furthermore, the appropriate course of action would have been to find a day room in one of the hotels adjacent to the terminal at Stansted airport. Since this was not supplied, then I think a separate claim for your hotel room is Sofia is reasonable. This is not so cut and dried, though.
In any event, the Civil Aviation Authority is always keen to know about passengers with reduced mobility who do not get the decent treatment they deserve.
Q: My passport has an issue date of 31 January 2013 and an expiry date of 31 October 2023. However I’m going to St Lucia on 28 January 2023. So is the fact it will be 10 years from the issue date going to cause a problem?
A: No, no, no! There are still too many sourcess still suggesting that British passports expire after 10 years. I am doing all I can to stamp out the misinformation. Apart from the waste, it also means that people apply for renewed passports when they don’t need to, increasing the queue for people who are really desperate. You can be in St Lucia up to and including 31 October 2023.
Q: I am due to travel to Greece on 24 May 2022 for a week. My child’s passport was issued on 30 July 2017 and expires on 30 September 2022. I have contacted HM Passport Office several times for advice and have received so many conflicting replies, I spoke with the progress team and customer management team who have tried to reassure me the passport is good to use but i am still so worried that we won’t be able to board
A: Sorry you have been given the runaround too. Again, tell me if you can see anything online that peddles the myth that “Children’s passports run out after five years”. Some of them do – but only if they have been issued for exactly that length of time. Many of them are longer. The maximum validity for a passport issued for a child under 16 in the UK is five years, nine months. Blindingly obviously, this is within the European Union’s 10-year-since-issue rule (as mentioned, outside the EU, no one cares about the issue date anyway). The passport is valid for travel to Europe for stays up to 30 June 2022.
It was when Ryanair pretended that such a rule existed (and therefore justified them cancelling a family holiday) that it became clear the whole ludicrous confection had gone too far. Within a week, Ryanair aligned with the actual rules.
Q: We are hoping to go to Bali for Christmas and New Year. We already have a great deal at a hotel as we took a gamble and booked while Bali was still in lockdown, however, trying to find a reasonable flight is proving tricky. The normal go-to of Google flights keeps throwing up what looks like decent options but I am constantly clicking through to find these flights don’t exist. The same seems to be across multiple search engines, Skyscanner, Momondo etc…. Is it better to just bite the bullet and go direct to an airline website or should I just persevere and hope that one of the cheaper fares is actually available, the difference between a search engine “deal” and airline is £700 per person. On a similar note, as an alternative, do companion fares for business class ever crop up over this period?
A: It was bold to book accommodation without having flights sorted for such a busy time. I believe that the range of available flights will increase between now and Christmas, so I would not be getting worried at this stage, but instead of clicking between online travel agents I suggest you talk to a reputable human travel agent in the UK. They will be able to access good deals and talk through the options – which could include a stopover in, say, Singapore along the way.
Q: Our flight was cancelled last Tuesday without any communication. I was only aware if this when logging into easyJet to check in and prepare boarding passes etc. the two alternative flights were a day before, at a similar time or later that day. We purposely paid extra for the flight selected as we were travelling with a one year old. We selected the earlier flight, and arrived to our destination a day early. Can I claim the hotel stay for the extra night under compensation? Easyjet state on their website that hotel stays and other costs are not payable upon arrival at the destination. Is travel insurance affected in a case like, when you’re arrival date is prior to what was scheduled and booked with the insurer- thankfully it was not needed. Thank you in advance
A: As easyJet should have told you, it appears to owe you at least £220 in cash compensation for the cancellation. You can also seek to retrieve the extra costs, but the law here is cloudier.