Will you get compensation if you’re stopped from boarding with a valid passport? It’s complicated

May 17, 2022

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When Ian Glover arrived at East Midlands Airport with his family on 25 April, he couldn’t wait to dip his toes in the crystal waters of Portugal’s Algarve.

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But when Glover reached check-in, a Ryanair staff member told him he couldn’t fly because his passport didn’t meet the E.U.’s post-Brexit criteria… despite it being perfectly valid.

“I think there are going to be a lot of people turning up at airports in the summer, who are thinking ‘great, here we go’ [only to be sent home at the gate],” he said. “I think there should just be more information to be honest.”

Related: Passengers must be compensated when an EU flight leaves early, court rules

Glover is one of many holidaymakers wrongly prevented from boarding in recent months because airlines have misunderstood the E.U.’s post-Brexit passport rules. Some have lost thousands of pounds in cancelled bookings as a result.

Are they entitled to compensation? Well, it’s complicated.

When it happened to Dr Rebekah Schiff in January, she took her case to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider, only for the adjudicator to side with Ryanair.

Related: UK Foreign Office finally gives clarity on British passport rules for European travel

She was booked to fly with Ryanair from London Stansted to Seville in southern Spain. Her passport was issued on 22 February 2012 and expired on 22 November 2022, so it passed the two European Union tests for British citizens:

  • Issued less than 10 years earlier on the day of departure.
  • Expiring at least three months after the intended day of return.

Misinterpreting these rules, Ryanair staff believed her passport had to be no more than nine years and nine months old to travel. It’s the same story in many examples.

And yet, on 3 May, AviationADR‘s adjudicator, Garry Brooks, ruled: “This case is dismissed with no remedy or award required from the airline.”

Many travellers have been denied boarding in recent weeks due misinterpreted passport validity rules. (Photo by Getty Images)

Despite Dr Schiff’s evidence that her passport was valid on the day of travel — including confirmation from the Spanish Embassy in London — Mr Brooks said: “I have conducted my own investigations on this claim.”

He referred to the confusing Foreign Office travel advice, which until recently said: “For some Schengen countries your passport may need to be less than 10 years old during your whole visit, and the three months at the end of your visit may need to be within 10 years of your passport’s issue date.”

Related: How and when to renew your passport

Mr Brooks also cited news articles — including from Sky News — which incorrectly reported on the rules in support of his judgment.

“I have reviewed all the additional evidence sent by the passenger; however, I must add more weight to the travel requirements listed on official government websites.”

He added: “I am satisfied that the passenger was not denied boarding against her will but had inadequate travel documentation to satisfy travel rules.”

What is the legal view?

In light of all this, The Points Guy reached out to Flightright, one of Europe’s largest air passenger rights groups, in a bid to bring clarity to the issue.

“How the ADR adjudicator came to that decision isn’t obvious,” says Asha Vare, Flightright’s U.K. Legal Expert. “I disagree that it’s the government’s mistake as the Foreign travel advice website states quite clearly what the travel requirements are. They even provide a link to the European Union’s visa requirements for non-EU travellers which confirm the same information.”

“And there’s no room for doubt here; she met all those requirements. I think Ryanair applied the rules incorrectly.”

Related: Why new compensation rules for delayed UK domestic flights might not be as good as they sound

She adds: “The information the government has put out is clear enough that Ryanair shouldn’t have been confused about that point. And you don’t see any other airlines making this kind of mistake. I don’t think it is fair to say that the advice given by the government wasn’t clear.”

Vare is keen to point out that an ADR decision is not legally binding. Their role is more to provide an option for passengers to pursue a disputed claim without entering a costly court battle.

In other words, Dr Schiff still has the right to take her claim to the courts. And, if she did, Vare believes it would be a cut-and-dry case.

“In my view, it is a fairly straightforward case and I am confident we would win,” she says. “The passenger presented the correct documentation according to all the available information and, importantly, the law. I don’t think Ryanair would have much of an argument to explain why they’ve not implemented [the rules] correctly.”

Both Ryanair and easyJet have been called out for wrongly denying boarding to passengers with valid passports.  (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Until recently, Ryanair’s website had incorrectly advised passengers that their passport must “be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry to any EU member state.”

“If your passport is valid for more than 10 years, the excess validity period will not help to satisfy the requirements needed for travel to an EU member state,” it added.

But last week Ryanair changed its guidance to align with the E.U.’s regulations. It said it had briefed its staff on the E.U.’s rules to make sure no more passengers would be wrongly denied boarding. We also reported that EasyJet had updated their rules last month to provide more clarity.

It is now expected that Ryanair will face even more legal claims. “The fact that they’ve stopped applying the rules in this rather unusual way would suggest that they realise they were wrong,” adds Vare. “I think that’s essentially an admission of guilt.”

When The Points Guy contacted Ryanair for comment, a spokesperson responded to confirm that the airline’s rules are now in line with those of the E.U.

The spokesperson said: “Ryanair requires all passengers to ensure that their passport is valid for travel to/from the EU on both their outbound and return flight dates, as set out below:

  1. “Passports must be issued within 10 years of the date of arrival into the EU.
  2. “The passport must be valid for at least three months from the return date of travel from the EU.”

What can I do if I’m denied boarding with a valid passport?

Under current legislation (known as EU261), an airline must compensate between £220 and £520 per person when it is responsible for a passenger missing a flight.

Your first port of call should be the airline itself. All airlines have a process through which you can apply for a refund if you believe the airline was at fault in denying you boarding.

This is an important first step because, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), some airlines have a clause in their T&Cs stating that when lodging a complaint, passengers must submit their claims directly to the airline, allowing the airline to respond directly to them before engaging third parties to claim on their behalf.

Related: When will Brits need to pay to enter Europe and how much will ETIAS cost me?

If an airline accepts liability, it may offer you compensation, or just a refund of your ticket. But a ticket refund may not come close to covering the peripheral expenses incurred by missing your flight (new flights, cancelled accommodation etc.).

“If you are prevented from flying, you can request a ticket refund, compensation and additional expenses from the airline directly,” advises Vare. “You should allow the airline 28 days to respond but be aware that in most cases of denied boarding, the airline will reject the claim.”

If this happens, you can escalate your claim.

How do I escalate my claim?

Your next step can be an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider.

An ADR is essentially a process that enables you to resolve a dispute you’re having with an airline without having to go to court.

Some airlines and airports are members of alternative dispute resolution bodies (ADR) and should provide you with the details of the relevant ADR scheme.

There are a number of ADR bodies so it is important to check which your airline belongs to (The CAA has a list on its ADR page). The main ones are:

AviationADR, for instance, counts among its members:

  • Ryanair
  • easyJet
  • Emirates
  • Flybe
  • Air France/KLM
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Wizz Air

Another is the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), which handles complaints about:

  • British Airways
  • Thomas Cook
  • TUI

And söp:

  • Austrian Airlines
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Eurowings
  • Germania
  • Germanwings
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines SAS
  • Swiss

If the airline that has rejected your claim is not a member of an ADR scheme, and you are satisfied that you have a valid claim, then you can approach the CAA for help in arguing your case.

What’s the last resort?

If neither the ADR body nor the CAA can help, you could take your airline to court. But legal fees can mount up. This is where companies like Flightright come in.

“After receiving a refusal of payment, your best option is to pursue legal action,” says Vare. “Most denied boarding cases go to court. You must be able to show that you had everything you needed to travel: ID, residence permits, booking confirmation, anything relevant.

“But we’d always recommend a company like Flightright to help as not only do we have the relevant legal expertise but we take on the financial risk so that the passenger does not have to. That’s our role.”

Featured image by JannHuizenga/Getty Images.

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