Tough times for travelers – even more difficult for people who work in the travel industry
Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pay His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key issue with travel – and what it means to you.
If you think this is a difficult time for a traveler – with endless bureaucracy and vastly limited horizons – think about the people who work in the travel industry, and particularly at airports.
Not only do they endure a precarious existence with flowing cash, they are also uncomfortably on the front lines administering an unprecedented tangle of red tape. Airline staff must verify that each passenger complies with the rules imposed by the authorities at their destination. If they get it wrong and inadvertently allow an ineligible person to fly, the company is fined – the last thing a travel agent needs.
Last Sunday, for example, Angela and Robert Kennedy were denied boarding on their Jet2 flight from Leeds Bradford to Ibiza. They had precisely complied with the requirements to take a pre-departure Covid test and complete the passenger locator form from Spain. But they ran into a quite separate problem: the validity of the passport after Brexit.
When the UK chose to leave the European Union, we became a “third country” and subject to delicate rules on travel documents. Like so many consequences of Brexit, the effects have been masked by the coronavirus pandemic. Now that international travel is reluctantly opening up, barriers are emerging.
According to the EU’s assessment of the validity of the passport, 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,” said the British government, “you have at least six months left. “
As I have said many times, it is the traveller’s responsibility to make sure they follow the rules of the country they are visiting. Unfortunately, the UK has misinterpreted the regulations for Spain and the rest of the Schengen area.
You need a validity of three months from the day you intend to leave the area. Why the government claims otherwise is beyond me; I have repeatedly warned the authorities that the advice was wrong and people would be wrongly denied boarding. As was proven on Sunday.
When the Kennedys contacted me, understandably distressed and out of pocket, I contacted Jet2. To the company’s considerable credit, within 24 hours they had agreed that the UK interpretation was incorrect and that they would use EU rules instead. The couple flew away with all incidentals covered by the vacation company, and Jet2 urged the government to clarify their story.
Airports can be extremely stressful places at the best of times – especially at this time, with so many hidden obstacles to trip the traveler. I am concerned that many flights to Malta, Mallorca and beyond leave with empty seats because confused passengers did not follow vaccination or testing rules.
As travel unlocks later this month, with easier access for UK travelers fully bitten from ‘Orange List’ countries, the potential for upheaval will multiply. But don’t blame the staff – they do their best to keep you away. Even though the UK government adds to the confusion, everyone on the front lines of travel deserves courtesy and respect.