How a Little-Known Passport Rule Could Ruin Your Vacation
By: ABC Digital
(NEW YORK) — Jack Edelstein and his family were excited about their two-week vacation to Israel in June but it never got off the ground.
Unlike many others whose travel to the region was delayed because of rising tensions, the Edelstein family trip was thwarted by the upcoming November expiration of 13-year-old son Jesse’s passport, meaning that it had less than six months of remaining validity.
“We were stunned as I had never come across this issue in over 40 years of international flying,” Edelstein, an Ann Arbor-based real estate developer, told ABC News.
Edelstein is one of a growing number of Americans who make travel plans not knowing that passports effectively expire for travel to certain countries months before the listed expiration date.
The policy is technically a matter of reciprocity: The United States requires foreign visitors to have six months validity on their passports when they travel to America, and now many of those countries have returned the favor to American travelers. Recent changes to requirements for countries in the European Union’s Schengen area, which includes tourist-heavy countries like France, Italy and Spain, have caused some travel heartache.
“In the last few months, we have heard of many U.S. citizens having their travel plans disrupted due to some European countries, particularly those in the Schengen area, strictly enforcing passport validity requirements,” Elizabeth Finan, a spokeswoman for United States Consular Affairs, told ABC.
“Additionally, some E.U. countries are requiring passports to have six months’ validity because they assume travelers will stay the full three months allowed for visa-free visitors,” she said.
The State Department lists the passport requirements on each country’s travel advisory website, though few travelers seek the information out unless they have concerns about the safety of a region or possible visa requirements.
For their part, travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz make mention of passport expiration restrictions on their sites, but there is no notification or alert that warns passengers of possible problems before they arrive at the airport.
“Requiring that information at the time of booking just isn’t feasible,” Orbitz spokesman Chris Chiames told ABC. “Someone sees a bargain online. Makes an impromptu decision to go to Paris next April. Buys the ticket and worries about the passport later. Happens all the time.”
Airlines are in a similar situation, as a representative from British Airways said that “it is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure they acquire the proper documentation before departure” and United’s spokesman said that it “encourages” passengers to make sure they have all proper documents.
American Airlines provides similar information for customers who seek it out, though spokesman Matt Miller admitted that it is more difficult for them to control what users know when booking through third-party sites.
“The onus is on the passenger to know where they’re traveling and what that country requires,” he told ABC.
Delta and JetBlue did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Rick Seaney, the co-founder of FareCompare.com, said that the tough economy in the past five or six years has led to fewer people taking international trips, meaning that when they do finally decide to head out of the country, they assume that their passports are still valid from their last trip.
On a larger scale, he says, the policies themselves are more a reflection of other countries wanting to be “punitive” for the U.S. restrictions on foreign visitors.
“By basically charging folks for visas into the U.S., all the other countries basically reciprocated by saying, ‘Now you have to have visas with us’ because we tightened up our rules,” Seaney told ABC.
Just as the exact requirements differ for each country, the outcomes change per passenger. Some people in major cities are able to push back their flights, and rush to an emergency passport facility to get a new, up-to-date passport within a day or two in an attempt to salvage some of their existing hotel reservations.
Others, like the Edelsteins, had to plan the trip over again completely. Edelstein said that the cost of rebooking the flights for himself, his wife, and his 13-year-old twins in August came to about $4,000.
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