Irish holiday-makers face confusion about necessary documents as air travel takes off again - The Irish Times

3 months ago 26

Travel is back in a big way. Hundreds of thousands of people are leaving the country every week in waves not seen since pre-pandemic times, with similar numbers heading the opposite way in order to enjoy all that Ireland has to offer.

And thanks be to all that is good and true for that, says Pricewatch. But with all the coming and going there is a degree of confusion, particularly when it comes to the requirements for getting into various countries, requirements that have shifted repeatedly since the start of the pandemic. And the confusion does not appear to be on the part of the travelling public.

The confusion has prompted readers to get in touch seeking clarification and help.

First up, there is a query from a reader called Christina, although she is not the only person who has been in touch with us about the same issue in recent times.

“We are going on our holiday to Majorca on July 11th,” she writes. She and her family will be out of the country for two weeks, returning home on July 25th. She is concerned because her 12-year-old daughter’s passport is due to expire on July 27th, just two days after she gets home and she is worried that might be problematic having read that some countries, including Spain, insist that there is more time left on a passport before people are allowed in.

Can you still travel if your passport is due to expire immediately after the trip? Photograph: Alan Betson

“I tried ringing the passport office [and] I also tried to ring the Spanish embassy to ask them but it just keeps ringing out,” she says. “My travel agents, TUI, said that it would be fine, that the Spanish will accept it and that it would only be a possible problem with eastern European countries.”

Christina is unconvinced and is wondering if she should renew her daughter’s passport now just to be sure.

We got in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs to see what the story is. “For Irish and EU passport holders, the travel document only needs to be valid for the dates of your trip – to have enough validity to get you back out,” a spokesman says. The DFA’s travel advice makes that clear in the “additional information” section.

News articles

As we said at the start, other readers have contacted us with similar concerns and it would appear that is because of some news articles published in Irish newspapers have caused some confusion by suggesting that three months’ validity is required.

The origins of these reports may be found on the Spanish Embassy entry requirements page in the section which makes reference to entry requirements for non-EU citizens. “A passport must be valid for at least three months beyond the planned departure date from the Schengen territory,” it says, without making it clear this requirement does not apply to EU citizens. On the same page, slightly above that line, it states: “Citizens of the Member States of the European Union, and citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, may enter Spain with their national identity card or with a valid passport.” There is no specific requirement, therefore, in relation to the validity of travel documents for EU citizens.

We have also heard from people who have encountered serious obstacles when using a particular travel document. One such person who got in touch last week was Cian Kinsella.

“On Sunday I was supposed to fly from Girona to Stansted,” he writes. “I checked in online, got there in plenty of time, and was let through security, passport control, duty-free, and all.

At the boarding gate, the Ryanair attendant checking my passport card flagged it to her colleague, who insisted I needed either a passport book or proof of settlement. I’d used this exact card to get from Stansted to Madrid that Tuesday, with Ryanair,” Cian says.

The passport card, introduced in Ireland in 2015 as an alternative to the full passport, is sometimes (mistakenly) viewed with suspicion by airline staff. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

“I said it was fine to use according to both the UK and RoI, yet she insisted I couldn’t get on the flight. They took me back to a manager in the main foyer, who barely gave me 30 seconds of his time and told me that since Brexit, I cannot use the passport card. The second woman and the manager were both rude to me, and the woman said ‘I believe we are speaking the same language’ in a sarcastic tone.”

With little else to do, Cian booked a flight to Cork from Girona and then booked another flight from Cork to London Gatwick. “It cost me about £140 and they were both Ryanair flights. I was allowed back through security (without the wine I had bought in duty-free there, for which I still had the receipts), passport control, etc. I got on the plane fine and got to Cork. At Cork, I was allowed to board my flight to Gatwick fine with my passport card, and I arrived around noon.”

The mail from Cian reminded us a mail we received before Christmas that we had intended to highlight at the time but didn’t. It came from a reader called Ciaran Mahon.

‘A word of caution’

“As we take to the skies again, a word of caution regarding relying on a passport card,” he wrote. “I’ve just returned from Vienna after a four-day break – the first trip abroad in over 18 months. We flew with Ryanair. Because I was conscious of the need to bring identification that would fit in a wallet, to back up my Covid Vaccination Digital Certificate, I decided to use my passport card this time.”

He says the outbound trip “went smoothly with Ryanair Dublin Gate staff and indeed incoming Austrian passport control checking my passport card in addition to the DCC. A very pleasant stay in Vienna followed – with our Digital Covids certs and the second dose of vaccine in particular – being checked at every venue and attraction.”

But then it came time to come back to Ireland on a flight operated – on behalf of Ryanair – by Lauda Air.

Ryanair passengers line up to check in their luggage. Photograph: Heino Kalis/Reuters

“As before, the clearance through security and the check of my passport card at outbound Austrian passport control went fine. The flight was called and I presented my card at the gate. The boarding staff member told me that they could not accept national identification cards and enquired whether I had a standard passport with me. I told her that it was in fact a passport card – the equivalent of any standard passport – to be used within the EU. She said that there were problems accepting these cards at Stansted and Dublin and that only a full passport was acceptable.”

Ciaran said that she was not to be persuaded. “By this stage the queue behind me was lengthy, and, as it happened I had also brought my standard passport. I produced this and was allowed board. Ironically, my passport card number is the one that is stored on the Ryanair Passenger Portal. When packing, I remember thinking, ‘Take this ‚just in case, in the unlikely event of anything going wrong.’ How right I was.”

He said he was in “no doubt that I am entitled to fly within the EU with my passport card. And in this case, there were no problems with passport control at either end when I produced my card. The problem was with the Ryanair/Lauda Air ground staff who – for whatever reason – were not initially accepting the passport card for boarding,” he writes.

He speculated as to whether there could have been confusion. “The Lauda staff member mentioned that there were problems accepting the card in Dublin and Stansted. Ireland and the UK are outside Schengen. And of course the UK is now outside the EU. Did the Lauda staff possibly think that Dublin is under UK jurisdiction? Unlikely, but anything is possible.

“The problem is that you really can’t argue the point with the boarding staff once they have made up their mind. Travelling these days is stressful enough. This adds unnecessarily to that. The learning from this is that you may have right on your side, but it’s going to be your problem if they stick with this approach. So I, for one, will no longer use the passport card – better to be safe than sorry and travel with your full standard passport.”

We then went to the Department of Foreign Affairs section on passport cards. This is what it says. “It is valid for travel to all EU Member States, the members of the EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway), Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It is recognised as a valid travel document by relevant national authorities.”

Ryanair response

So we got on to Ryanair to see what it had to say.

In a statement, a spokeswoman said the airline does in fact accept Irish Passport Cards as a valid travel document for travel to/from all EU member states, Norway, Switzerland and the UK.

“We sincerely regret that Mr Kinsella was wrongly refused travel from Girona to London Stansted on 5th June by the airport handling agent who incorrectly believed that Mr Kinsella’s Card was a National ID Card, which is not acceptable to enter the UK from Spain following last October’s changes for EU/EEA/Swiss National ID Cards, which are not valid for travel to/from the UK. We are working hard with our handling agents to eliminate this confusion.

“We sincerely apologise to Mr Kinsella for the inconvenience caused and our Girona Airport handling agents have agreed in this case to compensate him for the amount of €250 and to fully refund the cost of his flights to Cork and Gatwick.”

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