Britons with 'wrong passport' stopped from travelling to US

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Media captionBritish traveller Hannah said her holiday was ruined by new US travel rules

Britons travelling to the United States have been warned to check they have an e-passport, or risk being turned away.

Vic Ryan, from Lincoln, said his family holiday to Florida had been "totally ruined" after he was turned away at airport check-in because he had an old style passport.

New rules requiring US visitors to have passports with a biometric trip came into force on 1 April.

Tour operators have urged customers to check their passports.

Biometric passports are identifiable on British passports by the camera logo at the bottom of the front cover, and have an embedded electronic chip holding the carrier's facial details, in a bid to combat fraud and forgery.

It is understood that British passports affected are those issued between April and October 2006 - before the introduction of the biometric passport.

Simon Calder, travel editor at the Independent newspaper, estimates about 1.3 million British passports are currently valid but not biometric.


In a Facebook post that was shared more than 60,000 times, Mr Ryan said he was prevented from boarding his flight on 1 May, despite having a passport valid for six months, because it was not biometric.

"I have now spent best part of three hours on the phone being passed from pillar to post," he said.

"And had to fork out over £500 to try and get to the US on Wednesday to meet up with a very distraught family to try and rescue a totally ruined holiday."

Despite booking through travel agent Thomson, and filling in advanced passenger information and Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta), the issue was never flagged, he said.

Thomson said it was "sorry to hear that a small number of customers had been unclear on the passport and visa guidelines" for entry to the US.

"We also advise customers it's their responsibility to check the passport, visa and health requirements for their holiday destination," the company said, adding that it was also reviewing how it could better highlight the issue to customers.

What do you need to travel to the US?

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Image caption The e-passports valid for US travel are identifiable by a small camera logo

The new rules, which were decided in as part of an anti-terrorism strategy in December 2015, say that only people with a biometric passport will be allowed entry to the United States from 1 April 2016.

US Homeland Security states:

  • The passport must have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page
  • The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner

UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol at the bottom of the front cover.

Any Briton travelling to the US for tourism or business for 90 days or less also needs fill in a form to obtain a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta). This is not a visa, but is part of a system to increase security for travellers entering the US from the 38 countries signed up to the Visa Waiver Programme - including the UK.

Babies, and those passing through America in transit, also need an Esta.

Hannah Elphick, 25, told BBC Radio 5 live her partner Kevin Nash was refused travel at Stansted Airport check-in on 6 April.

She was forced to go without him to Florida with their two-year-old, Kloe.

"It was awful, we were all pretty upset," she said, adding that it had taken more than two days and £700 for Mr Nash to finally get to the US.

"What annoys me most is that British Airways didn't inform me when I phoned them," she said.

British Airways said: "Customers should ensure they have the relevant documents before they travel."​

The relevant information is on its website, and customers are prompted when booking and later reminded again by email, the company said.

'Check before you book'

Sean Tipton, from the Association of British Agents (ABTA), said airlines and travel agents "certainly should have been" alerting customers.

"We sent out two notifications to our members saying rules were changing and people needed to be informed. From our side, we did tell them to do so," he said.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has encouraged travellers to check they have the right passport, and said warnings had been issued on their website and via email where possible.

Those without an e-passport and who wished to travel to the US could obtain a non-immigrant visa, a spokeswoman said.

Such visas can be applied for and obtained from the nearest US embassy or consulate, according to advice on the Home Office website.

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