The Brexit quirk which is ruining holidays


If you get your documentation wrong when you travel to the EU, a strange quirk in the Brexit agreement could ruin your entire holiday. One reader who contacted us estimates she lost nearly £2,000 in accommodation, travel and other costs when she was turned away at a Ryanair check-in desk and eventually ended up having to abandon her family holiday to Majorca last month. All this because she fell foul of a new rule on passport validity. 

She is one of many readers who have contacted us because of the same issue, which stems from a change applied as part of the Brexit deal on December 31, 2020. After that date, the old requirement that your passport simply had to be valid in order to travel in the Schengen zone was altered so that it had to have at least three months’ validity beyond the date you plan to leave. 

On its own, that could be seen as a relatively minor adjustment, but there is a problem. The EU puts a 10-year limit on the overall validity of a British passport – as far as it is concerned, for travelling purposes, it runs out nine years and nine months after the date it was issued. However, the British government has, in recent years, issued many passports with an extra few months added to the overall validity. This is because, explains the Foreign Office: “If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date.”

Let’s take a concrete example of how this affects travel. A colleague’s passport is stamped as valid from July 18, 2012 and the expiry date is given as November 18, 2022 (a total of 10 years, four months). If you looked only at the expiry date then you would think that it is valid for travel in the Schengen zone until three months before that, which would be August 18, 2022. 

But for the EU, it ceases to be valid nine years and nine months after it was issued, which is May 18, 2022. Present it at check-in at a British airport (or at the border itself) on May 19 and you won’t be allowed to travel, even though you may well have thought you had another four months’ validity to play with.

It’s not clear whether this quirk represents an active negotiating failure by the Government, or whether the implications of each sides’ rules and practices were simply missed or underestimated. But the consequences of not understanding the rules can be extremely distressing and expensive. 

The reader who lost her Majorca holiday is especially upset because she feels that her airline, Ryanair, did not do enough to make her aware of the change in rules. Legally, it is the passenger’s responsibility to make sure they comply with immigration requirements, but I put it to Ryanair that it would be easier all round, and save time at check-in, if it were more proactive in flagging the potential problem – perhaps prominently during the booking process, or through the confirmation email. 

The response was deadpan: “Ryanair complies with all European Commission travel regulations and passengers travelling between the EU and the UK after the end of the transition period must have a passport that is not valid for more than 10 years. It is each passenger’s responsibility to check the travel rules and country-specific requirements before travelling. These T&C’s are available on”

When I put the question about its own policy to British Airways it was more forthcoming. It said that some customers are caught out by the rules (“they aren’t completely straightforward”) but it does try to provide prompts about them as part of the ‘Manage My Booking’ function on their website. 

I have some sympathy for the airlines here. If they start to advise people on one rule, then there is a risk that they imply a responsibility which isn’t theirs and could make themselves liable. Remember also that their passengers come from and are travelling to hundreds of countries and are subject to thousands of different regulations. 

But clearly there is a serious issue here, and the Government either needs to negotiate the removal of what appears to be an irritating technicality or do a lot more to warn people about it.

Has Brexit affected your holiday plans? Tell us in the comments section below 

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