Ryanair, the EU Commission and the passport expiry fiasco threatening to ruin your summer holiday

·8-min read
ryanair, passport confusion, passport delays, travel, summer holidays, validity period - Getty
ryanair, passport confusion, passport delays, travel, summer holidays, validity period - Getty

Today there appears to have been a turnaround, a push-back, a reverse thrust from Ryanair. In a victory for common sense, British passengers with entirely valid passports will (probably) no longer be turned away when flying to Europe.

Ryanair told The Independent that it is now advising airport staff to recognise passport expiry dates, rather than imposing a blanket rule that passports effectively expire 10 years after they were issued.

However, the situation for British holidaymakers with an upcoming expiry date remains confusing, and there is still scope that your holiday could be ruined if your passport is set to expire in the coming months or even a year from now.

During the Telegraph's investigation on the matter, it has emerged that many EU Schengen countries are observing different rules regarding British passport validity, making it almost impossible for British holidaymakers to know whether they can, or cannot, use their passport to travel abroad.

Given the stakes, it is worth knowing the situation before you travel, particularly if your passport is due to expire soon. Here’s everything you need to know, including advice on exactly what to say if you find yourself in a spot of bother.

What is the problem?

In recent weeks there have been a number of case studies involving British passport holders being denied boarding on Ryanair flights, despite their passport being valid according to EU rules. One Telegraph reader lost their £4,000 family holiday to Greece having been turned away at check-in, despite the fact his wife’s passport was, in the eyes of the Greek authorities, valid – with sufficient time left before it expired.

The root cause of the passport validity confusion

If you renew your British passport early, due to a name change, for example, or simply because you’re an organised sort, your reissued passport may have an expiry date that is more than 10 years after the issue date. You might, for example, have an issue date of September 1, 2012 and an expiry date of January 1, 2023.

What are the passport rules for entering the EU?

Since the UK left the European Union, the EU has imposed stricter entry requirements for UK passport holders. According to the FCDO, to enter the EU Schengen Area your passport must be:

  • less than 10 years old on the day you enter (check the ‘date of issue’)

  • valid for at least three months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’)

Seems straightforward, what’s the problem?

The problem is that there is a caveat in that FCDO advice. The FCDO goes on to say: “For some Schengen countries your passport may need to be less than 10 years old during your whole visit, and the 3 months at the end of your visit may need to be within 10 years of your passport’s issue date.”

Why is there this ambiguity?

The ambiguity appears to be that some Schengen countries (and previously, Ryanair) are conflating the two pieces of EU advice, above. When the Telegraph contacted the EU Commission, the press department gave the following response, which you should quote if you are denied boarding, because you might be within your rights to enter the country even if they say you are not.

"The conditions set out in article 6(1)(a) of the Schengen Borders Code (i.e. that the passport’s validity shall extend at least three months after the intended date of departure from the Member States territory, and that that the passport shall have been issued within the previous 10 years) must both be complied with at the moment of entry.

"The condition that the passport must have been issued within the previous 10 years does not extend for the duration of the intended stay. It is enough if this condition is fulfilled at the moment of entry.

"To give a practical example, a non-EU traveller arriving on 1 December 2021 for a 20 days stay in the EU with a passport issued on 2 December 2011 and valid until 2 April 2022 will be allowed entry."

The problem is, a number of EU Schengen countries are not observing the above rules and impose their own 10-year validity limit on exit, which might mean you are denied entry at all.

How do I know if my destination imposes a 10-year validity period?

The FCDO advises that you contact your “travel provider or embassy of the country you are visiting”. However, when the Telegraph contacted British Airways, they advised to “check the latest [FCDO] requirements for their destination”. Unlike other aspects of travel, such as Covid rules, the FCDO and some airlines are passing the responsibility onto passengers to do their own research on the matter. It can be difficult to get a quick, succinct response from an embassy, however, and not all countries have clear information on this matter available online. So if in doubt, you should quote the articles of the Schengen Borders Code quoted by the EU Commission, above.

So where does Ryanair fall into all of this?

Until today, Ryanair has not recognised any extra months on UK passports beyond 10 years after issue, regardless of whether your destination does or does not recognise those extra months on your passport. To take our earlier example, if your passport was issued on September 1st, 2012, Ryanair would consider it to expire on September 1, 2022. Because September 1, 2022 is less than three months from when you would exit the EU country, you would have been denied boarding, even if your expiry date is in fact January 1, 2023.

This has caught out many passengers with an expiry date that is months or even a year longer than 10 years after the issue date. But this rule is imposed despite the fact that some EU embassies contacted by the Telegraph, including Italy and Greece, recognise a UK expiry date as written on the passport. They observe the EU rules, as laid out above, without conflating the two.

What has Ryanair changed today?

Today, there appears to have been some progress. Europe’s biggest low-cost airline told The Independent that airport staff have been instructed to follow two conditions for British passport holders going to the EU. The issue date must be under 10 years on the day of entry, and the expiry date must have three months left on the intended day of departure.

This goes back on their previous rule, which was: “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.”

Ryanair has also retracted its previous assertion that “a child’s passport must be no more than five years old on the date of travel”.

Will passengers be able to get a refund?

The reversal is an effective admission that Ryanair’s blanket rules have not been in line with the rules of the European Commission. So, if you believe you have wrongly been denied boarding, it would certainly be worth contacting Ryanair to request a refund. Quote the Schengen Borders Code quoted by the EU Commission, above, when you make a claim.

So if I have a passport with an extended expiry date, am I now in the clear?

Not necessarily. The Telegraph has contacted a number of EU Schengen embassies to clarify their positions. Three countries, Croatia, Portugal and Spain, have come back saying that they do impose a 10-year expiry date on British passports.

Therefore, were you to travel to these countries for a week in July 2022, with an issue date of September 1, 2012 and an expiry date of January 1, 2023, your passport would not, strictly speaking, be valid because, on leaving the country, it would not have three months of validity before it turns 10 years old. Whether Croatian, Portuguese and Spanish border officials are actually enforcing this rule is another matter.

Italy, Germany and Greece do not observe the 10-year validity limit. They follow the rules as laid out by the EU Commission, above. The Telegraph will update this page, as and when more embassies have responded with their official passport advice.

How can I ensure I won’t be caught out?

Since the FCDO is not issuing country-by-country advice on this matter, and since airlines like British Airways are simply advising to “follow country requirements”, the only way to guarantee that your destination will accept your passport is to call the embassy of your destination and request an answer. If they say they are imposing a 10-year limit, quote the Schengen Borders Code quoted by the EU Commission, above.

What if I need to renew my passport?

There is currently a backlog of approximately 700,000 passport applications, which has created significant delays. Even those who have paid for a fast-track passport are struggling to receive their new document in time. Start the process immediately, if you believe you need a new passport for your holiday.

Do you have a question about the validity of your passport? Comment below and we will try to assist, as best as we can

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