Update: I got a refund from Easyjet via ADR – see my update below.
On Thursday 21 October 2021 I stood at the gate at Manchester Airport waiting to board the 15:45 Easyjet flight to Malaga, Spain. I was with my friend. We were going on a three night trip, coming back on Sunday 24. And we were running through a checklist of requirements for flying: passport, boarding passes, NHS Covid Pass, QR code for entering Spain. I had all of these documents on phone apps and with printed copies in my hand. At home I had a PRC test ready for day 2 of my return. We’d pre-booked the usual – airport car parking, apartment in Spain, day at the wonderful Hammam al Andalus. We’d done everything we should but we were still jittery travellers because these are jittery travel times.
With the exception of a quick, last-minute jaunt to Greece the previous summer, my last flight had been stressful AF. It was March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic and I’d been repatriating back to the UK after months of long-term travel in Central America. KLM had cancelled my flight the night before and I’d barely managed to get a seat on the last flight leaving San Jose heading home. I had to fly west to LA to get back east to the UK. We were in mandatory lockdown when I landed at Heathrow. It was the most stressful (and expensive) flying experience of my life.
That stress was still haunting me as I stepped up to have my passport checked by the Easyjet crew. But in my gut I knew I was ok. I’d read the new covid rules back to front and sideways. I was expecting a quick check before following my friend down the gangway onto the flight.
Easyjet: “Your Passport has expired”
“I’m sorry. Your passport has expired,” Easyjet said.
That phrase would make most people’s blood run cold. Not me. I’m a travel writer. I can quote my passport number, issue and expiry dates without even opening my purple book. So, I knew my passport didn’t expire until 15 August 2022, over nine months away. “It hasn’t expired,” I told Easyjet with absolute confidence.
“It has,” he replied, “because of the new Brexit rules.” That’s when my blood did run cold.
While the rest of the plane boarded, we were taken to one side and Easyjet explained that since Brexit my passport expiry date was no longer valid. According to Easyjet, the correct way to find out your new expiry date is to look at your issue date, add 10 years, then minus 3 month (because every country requires you have a minimum validity left on your passport before travel).
Taking Easyjet at its word, my passport had, indeed expired.
Issue date: 15 November 2011
Add 10 years: 15 November 2021
Minus 3 months: 15 August 2021. That was my new expiry date according to Easyjet. NOT 15 August 2022. It was 21 October 2021, my expiry date had long passed.
For this reason, I was not allowed to board the flight. Understandably, my friend didn’t board either.
Except Easyjet got it wrong
Unless it’s happened to you, it’s hard to imagine the tsunami of emotions that come over you as you’re escorted back through security. I’d messed up, big time; at something that was part of my job. All that faffing and stressing over the Covid requirements was irrelevant because, somewhere in the middle of Brexit, I’d completely missed a major rule change, and in doing so, I’d screwed up the weekend trip for me and my friend. The time off work, her time away from her kids, the effort and energy and let’s not forget the hundreds of pounds we’d each spent that we wouldn’t get back (since no airline or insurance will reimburse an act of stupidity).
I was beside myself with shock, disbelief, guilt, shame, frustration, anger (at myself) and then some anger at the [email protected] Brexit Government. Why wasn’t this more clear? Why wasn’t there a bus driving round with ‘Your Passport Expiry Date is no longer valid’ slapped on the side. I recalled there had been a radio campaign saying you needed three months’ validity remaining on your passport post-Brexit but I had always worked with six, as other countries required; my expiry was nine months away; my passport was fine. Or so I thought.
At the same time, I was desperately re-grouping and scrambling to make plans for how to have a staycation that could even remotely make up for the lack of 29 degree heat in Malaga. My friend gets 100 out of 10 stars for being the most understanding person ever. She told me not to worry. She told me it wasn’t my fault. She told me we’d make the best of it. And we decided we’d just put it behind us.
Except, pair of lawyers that we are (her still practising, me not), over the next couple of days, sandwiched in between fancy dinners and massages to make up for not away, we turned to Google and, guess what, as nice as the staff were about denying us boarding, Easyjet was wrong.
My passport was still valid. And, like hundreds of others before me, I had wrongly been denied boarding due to misinterpretation of the post-Brexit rules.
That’s when the fury really did set in.
How did Easyjet get it so wrong?
With the benefit of a couple of days to calm down, I’m still furious. When I did practice law, I specialised in consumer protection so this is exactly the kind of injustice that makes my blood boil. How could such a big Airline could get it so wrong? And it’s not just Easyjet – other airlines have made the same mistake. The answer is, they’ve been relying on the UK Government guidelines and those guidelines are as clear as mud.
The Gov.UK Passport Guidance
Having been denied boarding, I decided to check the rules so I could understand what they were post-Brexit. Like most people, I went to the UK Government website to get the official information. Below is a screenshot from the Gov.UK Passport Rules For Travel To Europe. This is the main consumer page for checking the passport validity rules. These rules are shockingly (negligently, illegally?) unclear.
A quick disclaimer – I’m not an expert in international law and I never was. I no longer practice law and I’m not giving legal advice. What I am doing here is sharing my understanding of the rules, to help point you in the right direction, since the official sources of advice are so confusing.
Also: this article is about to get very technical as I dig into the details of the rules. If you’re worried about your passport validity and you’re checking the rules, these next couple of sections are for you. Everyone else, you might want to skip down How Do I Check If My Passport Is Valid?
If you’ve read the above guidance and thought ‘what?’, you’re not alone (I’ve added the coloured highlighting). This page is confusing on multiple levels:
Do you need 6 month or 3 months remaining? The first error is recommending you have 6 months left on your passport. Sure, this is great advice (like driving 26 in a 30 zone) but it’s not the legal requirement. The legal requirement is 3 months. And it is the European Union together with individual European countries that set these rule. Not the UK government. The above is just their guidance. Yes, having 6 months on your passport is better but if you’re at the gate and have 4.5 month left, you should not be refused boarding. Yet, this has happened to countless people because the airlines have been applying a 6 month requirement based on this Government advice. The government’s reply: they’re being abundantly cautious. That, my travel friends, is not ok. It’s also not legal (it’s called acting ultra vires i.e. outside their power).
Why does the Government assume we’re all going backpacking for 3 months? The Government says that they recommends you have 6 months on your passport so that you can freely travel around Europe for up to 3 months and still have the required 3 months remaining on your passport when you come home. I’m all for a long trip but surely the vast majority of people travelling to Europe post-Brexit are taking weekend breaks and 2-week holidays. They’re not swanning off round Europe for the entire summer. To mention this anywhere other than in a footnote just adds to the confusion. Also: it’s not correct (I’ve put the correct answer below).
The 10 year rule – this is the rule I’ve highlighted in red. It’s the rule that is most likely to impact people post-Brexit. It’s the rule that Easyjet got wrong. And it’s the rule that should have been slapped on the side of a bus in big writing. It’s a rule I’ll cover in more detail below so you can fully understand what it means because the Governments summary of it is not nearly clear enough. Not least because it says any extra months on your passport ‘may not’ count. Excuse my indignation but there is no place for ‘may not’ in a legal requirement. ‘May not’ is what your mate down the pub says when she doesn’t know the answer. Legally the extra months count or they don’t count. If the Government isn’t confident enough in their own understanding of the rules to give us a definitive answer, how the [email protected] are the rest of us supposed to work them out?
When do you start counting your 3 months remaining? According to the Government Guidance you count it ‘on the day you travel’…or is it ‘on the day after you leave’…the guidance unhelpfully says both. Worse, neither tells us whether this is travelling from the UK or from the EU. So, if you do go backpacking for 3 months, do you need to have 3 months from the day you leave the UK or from the day you leave the EU after your 3 months abroad? Because that will make a difference. Again, I answer this below
What about the Government passport checker?
You’ll see that the guidance page includes a link to a passport checker. Unsurprisingly it’s is no better. I clicked on the link, input my issued and expiry dates and just got a similar (but not exactly the same) summary of the above rules (pictured above). They did, of course, recommend (but not require) that I renew my passport even though I did not NEED a new passport for this trip. It was valid for travel. To explain why my passport was valid for Malaga, we need to talk about the 10 year rule.
The 10 year passport validity rule
Let’s look at that red section again. This rule makes more sense when you understand how passport validity used to work.
Passports are typically issued for 10 year periods. However, until 2018, if you renewed your passport before the expiry date, any unexpired months would be rolled over onto your new passport. People renew early for all kinds of reasons – lost and stolen passports, passports that have been filled with stamps (in my case) and name changes like marriage or divorce. The result – there are lots of people out there with passports that are valid for longer than 10 years because of these extra months. My passport had a 10 year and nine month validity period and that’s not uncommon.
Since Brexit, these extra months have become more important than most of us realise. For people who have extra months on their passport, their passport ‘expiry date’ is no longer accurate when travelling to Europe.
What the holy…what…wait…is that true?
Yes. The European rules and, to be fair, the Gov.UK rules, clearly state that in order to travel to Europe your passport can’t be more than 10 years old.
Using my passport as an example, my issue date was 15 November 2011 meaning my passport becomes 10 years old on 15 November 2021. I tried to board my flight on 21 October 2021. My passport was less than 10 years old. However, had I tried to travel a few weeks later, from 15 November 2021, I wouldn’t have been allowed, even though I still have 9 months validity left on my passport according to the expiry date of 15 August 2022.
I don’t know anybody who looks at their passport expiry date and questions whether it’s right or might have changed. But it may not be right. Under the 10 year rule my passport is no longer valid for travel to Europe from 15 November 2021.
See the problem? And it gets worse…
The 10 year and the 3 month rules together
This is what bit me on the backside at the gate. If you remember, Easyjet told me that the correct way to find out your ‘real’ expiry date post-Brexit, is to look at your issue date, add 10 years, then minus 3 month. Easyjet told me that my extra months (up to 15 August 2022) did not count towards the minimum 3 months I needed remaining on my passport.
If you’ve really been paying attention (well done, it is complicated), you’ll remember this a repetition of what the Gov.UK website says: “If you renew your passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to the expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the minimum period needed.”
However, Easyjet have hardened that ‘may not’ to an absolute ‘cannot’.
But here’s the thing – any extra months over 10 months CAN count towards the minimum period needed. Because the European rules say so, the European Commission have confirmed it, and Easyjet has admitted it. This is a very good summary, taken from a great article by Simon Calder in The Independent.
The Independent article goes on to say: “someone with a passport issued on 2 October 2011 that is valid to 2 April 2022 would be able to travel out to the EU any time up to 1 October 2021. They could stay for up to 90 days, until 30 December 2021.” This is far more flexible than the UK Government suggests, and The Independent has heard of multiple people being wrongly denied boarding despite complying with these requirements.
Interestingly, I can’t find that Easyjet ‘updated policy and website wording’ which makes this clear. And, based on my experience of being denied boarding at Manchester Airport, the updated policy hasn’t been properly communicated to ground staff either.
What are the new EU passport validity rules after Brexit?
This might leave you wondering – what the hell are the new rules if the UK Government and airlines can’t get it right?
A wise lawyer once said to me, always go back to the law. Any interpretation or summary of it may be inaccurate or confusing. So, I went back to the law which is the Schengen Borders Code (European Regulation 2016/399). Those regulations are wonderfully and plainly clear (I’m trying not to dissolve into a Brexit rant).
The Regulations say that third country nationals i.e. UK citizens can enter European countries if they have a valid travel document (passport) that:
1) is valid for at least 3 months after the intended departure date from Europe;
2) has been issued within the previous 10 years (on the day you enter/arrive in Europe).
How do I check if my passport is valid?
Taking those very clear rules, here’s a handy checklist:
1) Your passport must not be more than 10 years old on the date that you arrive in Europe.
2) Your passport expiry date (the one printed in your passport) must have at least 3 months left on it from the date when you leave the EU (e.g. come home).
3) This 3-month period can include any extra months that have been added on from a previous passport/which extend your passport beyond 10 years.
4) However, if you have had extra months added to your passport, your expiry date may no longer be accurate. For those passports you have to look at your issued date and add 10 years and 3 months (from the date you plan to leave Europe) to get your new expiry date for travel to Europe. In effect, this means most passports with more than 6 months added will have an invalid expiry date.
Let me know in the comments if you’d find it helpful for me to draw up a flow chart of these rules to help you check.
Will the new Brexit Passport requirements impact me?
The new rules will impact a lot of people but they won’t impact everyone. And this only relates to travel to Europe. Who is at most risk of being denied boarding?
- You’re travelling to Europe on the old purple passport (purple passports are still valid but may have validity issues).
- If your passport expiry date is longer than 10 years i.e. you had extra months added on, typically for passports issued before 2018 (still valid but check the expiry date).
- Your passport is more than 10 years old when you plan to travel, based on your issue date (in this case your passport is not valid).
- Your passport has an expiry date that’s more than 10 years and 6 months after issue (in this case your expiry date is no longer correct).
Note, the rules seem to be different for travelling to ROI. I have not looked into those rules and they are not covered in this article.
What should you do next?
If you have time, apply for a new passport: I hate that my ultimate advice is: if you’re not sure and your passport is close to 10 years old, renew it. I say this because, as much as the law is the law, nobody in the history of ever has managed to convince airline ground staff at the gate that they are right and the airline is wrong. If, like me, you’re in great need of a relaxing trip, being turned away at the gate is something you want to avoid at all costs.
Applying for a new passport: I got home and made a panic application for a new passport (it’s my job – I need a valid passport). Be aware that the expedited passport application process has changed since Brexit and Covid and you will need to make a face to face appointment at your nearest passport office. There aren’t many offices and appointments book up fast. And, of course, the application is expensive. I’ve paid £187 (£10 more because I wanted extra pages). That’s more than twice the price of a standard go-slow application and still isn’t all that quick. Unless I was prepared to drive to Glasgow, my nearest passport office didn’t have an appointment available for 9 days. I’ve made the online application so I’ll get my passport back on the day of my appointment. For offline/paper applications you need to wait a further week, and you still need an appointment. If you want to go down the standard application route, note that the passport office has a 10-week estimated turn-around time at the time of writing. I suspect this will get worse as people venture back out and start to travel again. Lots of passports will have expired during the pandemic and the race will be on.
If you’re at the gate and you’re being refused boarding: there’s a chance you’re reading this because you’re at the gate and you’ve been refused boarding. It’s a horrible, horrible experience. Feel free to message me on social media if I can help or leave a comment below. Otherwise, show the ground staff this article written by the Independent newspaper (I accept my credibility isn’t as powerful as a huge newspaper that’s already covered this topic). Ask to speak to a manager and ask them to phone their manager all the way up to head office. You may not have any luck but politely keep insisting until the plane has taken off. If that doesn’t get you on board your flight, you’re in the unfortunate position of having to make a claim.
If you’ve wrongly been denied boarding
I am at a slight advantage because I know my rights but I did have to spend a lot of time researching them, and it doesn’t make the complaint process any easier, less time consuming, quicker or less stressful. Here’s my tips for dealing with the situation if you have been denied boarding.
Stay calm: yes, you’re rightly angry but ranting and shouting at the airline isn’t going to get you any further forward.
Know your rights: If your airline is a European Airline (Easyjet has its head office in Austria), you are covered by the Air Passenger Rights Regulations (261/2004). There’s a good summary here. I find it almost hilarious that it is European consumer protection rules that are helping me when I’ve been denied boarding due to incorrect interpretation of the rules post Brexit.
Check the airline’s website: A google search of your airline name plus ‘denied boarding terms and conditions’ should hopefully give you the page on the website where you can find out your rights (airlines are required to tell you). The Easyjet page is here.
Find the best way to contact the airline: Most usefully, the Easyjet terms give me a link to a dedicated form for passengers who have been denied boarding. This will hopefully save me having to go through the standard customer service contact form which has a 28 day response time and I’m guessing a low success rate since this is a very specific and technical claim.
Try the airline’s social media: yesterday I reached out to Easyjet via social media. I wanted a comment before I publish this article as well as the best contact details. I have yet to receive a reply, but if you can’t find the best contact route, try social media. I’d suggest a private message over a public rant but that’s up to you.
Gather your receipts: in some ways, claiming against an airline is very similar to claiming on travel insurance. I have a whole article about how to make an insurance claim. Many of the tips in there will help. Especially…
Expect this to take time: my last insurance claim (for my pandemic repatriation) took over 50 emails, 18 months and involved me requesting a referral to the ombudsman. I was successful but it wasn’t quick or easy. Let your claim tick along in the background and get on with your life.
Persist! What the airlines are doing is wrong. You’ve had a terrible experience when you should have had a nice trip and you deserve to be compensated for that (and the law agrees). Don’t let them get away with it, the [insert your favourite swearword here].
What’s next for me: today I’ll fill in the Easyjet form. Then I will put it on my to-do list as something to follow up, and I’ll try to forget it. In a week I’ll pick up my new passport. In just over two weeks I’ll try again. I have a trip booked to the USA and as stressed as I feel about it, I’m really hoping that one day this Easyjet experience will be just another travel tale I tell down the pub.
Please share this article
I had intended to write this as a Facebook post to share with my readers but I think the issue is too important and not enough people understand it. I was wildly disappointed at not being able to travel to Malaga. It was a trip that got cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic so it was already 18 months overdue. It was the first time I’d left the country in over a year. More than 2 years for my friend. It was a trip back to the place I’d gone to grieve the death of my mum, and I was hoping it would be a happier trip. But it could have been far worse. I can’t help thinking of people who are travelling to funerals or to see sick family members one last time. Or people who have their entire family with them. Honeymooners. Babymooners. So many people taking so many trips for so many important reasons that have the potential to get cancelled at the gate. Please share this article. Please get your friends and family to check their passports. And if you do have the opportunity, please paint this message on the side of a bus.
Updates on my claim against Easyjet
After writing this post, I’ve continued my claim against Easyjet. I’ll keep this section updated with my progress.
I took a scattergun approach at first. I filled in the contact form and sent messages on Facebook and Twitter to the Easyjet accounts. Months later and still no reply to the contact form. Only Twitter replied and told me to fill in the contact form. Great. In the meantime, I discovered the dedicated form tucked away in Easyjet’s Terms & Conditions – by digging myself, not by any useful response from the airline.
I filled in the ‘denied boarding’ claim form and quickly came to realise it was more geared towards over-filled flights. As this wasn’t my case, I half expected to have my claim denied. It was, just a few days later.
At least I had a human to email at that point, which I thought might be useful. It was not. I explained the situation but they once again rejected my claim.
Easyjet is claiming the regulations don’t apply because they only apply when customers are bumped off a too-full flight. There is a section for ‘denied boarding against will’ which I think applies, but if not, it’s most likely a pure breach of contractual terms, to board me when I had valid documentation. I’m happy to have a wrangle with them on the legalities if necessary.
But first I thought I’d try the ADR route they suggested. I had a bit of a pause before applying for ADR (pure fatigue with the topic plus I went to the USA and Mexico – not denied boarding!). When I came back in early December, I started the ADR process. It was pretty quick to apply (just a few initial documents like my flight details and passport). Here’s what’s happened so far.
At first, my claim was accepted by ADR.
Then I got a curious notification that Easyjet was objecting to my right to ADR, which was interesting since they suggested it.
I didn’t hear anything within 7 days but then today, 7 Jan 22, I have another curious reply from Easyjet – that I haven’t submitted my passport. This is simply not true. Of course, they saw it at the boarding gate as well as when I complained to them directly. I’ve also uploaded it to the ADR system. But, still, this is an easy one to reply to – I will send them a copy of my passport. Side note: Easyjet’s reply is in hideously legalistic language: “did not provide the necessary information to identify the matter object of the claim…adduce the requested evidence.” Come on, dudes. It’s 2022, not 1522 and ADR not the Supreme Court. You just need to ask for (another) copy of my passport. No need to try and intimidate me with legalese.
Whatever will they try next? I’ll keep you posted.
Update: January 2022: I’m at the stage of ADR where Easyjet have submitted their ‘defence’. It’s a very legalistic document (I know, I’ve seen a few in my lawyer days). Without directly admitting fault, they have agreed to refund my flight price under their terms and conditions. That means they’ve admitted they got it wrong and incorrectly denied me boarding, which is a breach of their terms and conditions.
In a sense, Easyjet is getting ahead, paying me the flight back before my complaint has formally completed ADR. I don’t know if this is a tactic, them hoping it might satisfy me.
It’s an interesting approach because they have refused to pay for my associated costs e.g. hotel, car parking etc. They say that these are indirect losses (legal speak) and therefore aren’t covered. Their Terms and Conditions say the same.
I have dispute this with them on the basis that if they denied me boarding, the hotel costs etc are directly related to their wrongful act and they therefore should be refunded. I’ve made the same point about my friend’s costs, which were also refused on the basis she wasn’t denied boarding – she could have got on the flight (‘if I was a dick’, to quote my friend!).
Under consumer protection law, any terms in Easyjet’s terms and conditions must be reasonable and paying back just my flight price is not, in my view, reasonable. In fact, had I been denied boarding under the Denied Boarding regulations, Easyject would have been responsible for my additional costs.
I’ve made these points to ADR. I do expect Easyjet to fight this quite fiercely as it could spell a huge wave of increased costs for them if their terms excluding hotel costs are considered unfair. But I will pursue it.
What next? Easyjet’s defence and my arguments have now gone to the ADR panel for consideration. They will then issue a decision. I’ll keep you posted.
Update February 2022 at the end of Feb I got a notification from ADR that they now have all the evidence from me and Easyjet. It will now go to adjudication which can take a whopping 90 days from today. I will await the outcome and report back when I receive it some time around the end of May/June 2022.
Update April 2022: I still haven’t heard back from ADR and don’t expect to for another couple of months but the comments keep rolling in from people who have had similar issues. Instead of trying to keep on top of the comments and replying to each of you, I’m trying to reach out to some solicitors’ firms who deal with claims against airlines on a no-win, no-fee basis. This seems like a new area of claims but it’s impacting a lot of people so I’m hoping someone will be interested and have the time, skills and team/resources to take this on for us all. I’ll let you know if I get any positive responses.
If you’ve got any questions or anything to add, let me know in the comments below.