British travellers could find themselves turned away from flights to the US this summer, due to a new rule introduced last month. From 1 April, British passport holders travelling to the US will need a biometric passport (e-passport) to visit – even if they already have online ESTA permission to visit the US.
A number of travellers have already been caught out as a result, with some having to miss flights or cancel their trip altogether. Planning on heading to the US this summer? Here’s how to check your passport and what to do if it’s not biometric.
Check your passport
You can check whether your passport is biometric by looking at the issue date. E-passports are those issued on or after 26 October 2006.
An e-passport will carry the following symbol on its front cover:
Planning on traveling to the US at some point this year and need a new passport? If you don’t need it urgently, you have two options. You can either apply online and pay £72.50, or apply through the Post Office’s Check and Send service for £82.25.
This process can take up to six weeks, so make sure you have enough time before you travel.
What to do if you’re travelling soon
If you’re due to travel soon, or are preparing to book a flight for the summer then you’ll need to act as soon as possible.
Your first priority should be to renew your passport. The cost of this will depend on how soon you’re travelling. You can use the Passport Customer Service Centre’s one-day fast-track service for a quick response – this will cost you £128.
If you have more time to play with, the Post Office’s one-week service costs £103. For both options, you’ll need to go in person to one of the following passport offices:
• Newport, or
Don’t have enough time? It’s worth checking whether you can move your travel dates. There’s no guarantee that this will work but it’s worth a shot. So get in touch with your travel agent, airline or hotel if you booked direct.
Explain to them the situation and see if they are willing to move your booking. You might have to pay a fee to do this.
Your options if you get turned away
Since this new rule came into place, some travellers have had to cancel their holidays to the US. One couple had to cancel their Las Vegas wedding as a result of this new rule.
There are a few things that you can try when faced with this situation. Firstly, get in contact with the travel agent or airline you booked your flight with. Explain your situation to them and see if there’s anything they can do for you. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a straight refund but they might be willing to move around your flights so that you don’t miss your trip.
You should get in touch with your insurer as well. Insurers don’t usually cover this type of situation, but they can be flexible if the problem is widespread.
Paid on your credit card? Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act protects you if you pay for something on credit that costs between £100 and £30,000. This means that if you pay for all or part of a holiday on a credit card, you can claim your money back from your credit card company or the agent or airline that you booked your flights with if anything goes wrong.