By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
Raise a glass to the kid with the crumpled passport. Make it a double-shot. Rarely have I heard such tale of woe from a fellow traveler, aside from annoying delays and missed connections.
He was early 20s, should have been en route on his first overseas trip to Europe for a weeklong Mediterranean cruise with his father in October 2015. Instead he was drowning sorrows at a hotel bar near the Philadelphia airport because U.S. Airways said his passport was damaged and refused to issue a boarding pass.
Said he was told there was a recent change in regulations regarding the acceptable condition of passports, and that the airline official showed no empathy.
“I think she wanted to enforce the new regulation just because she could,” he said.
The ship would sail without him with no chance to send an SOS. He was SOL. Bummer.
It was easy to imagine the staggering disappointment, having enjoyed a first-time European cruise earlier in the year. I recalled the brief scare in Miami when my wife was initially denied a boarding pass.
The cruise line, in issuing the plane ticket, had arbitrarily truncated her first name and it did not match her passport. Fortunately, another agent joined the discussion and remedied the issue after a few tense minutes.
How damaged was the kid’s passport? It was significantly rumpled, as if it had inexplicably been balled up. He said it had been in among clothes in his gym bag.
No pages were torn. The information page with all of his identifying information was legible and his photo wasn’t distorted. Just creased. The whole thing needed an ironing.
“I’m a young Mexican kid. I’ve looked exactly the same since I was 6 years old,” he said.
Whether there may have been profiling involved is speculative. He said the condition of the passport wasn’t questioned before his flight out of Boston, but was flagged before the international flight in Philadelphia.
Two weeks later a woman posted on Facebook about being denied boarding a U.S. Airways flight in Philadelphia bound for Athens, Greece, due to the condition of her passport. She was on her honeymoon.
The woman wrote that a clerk said the passport was unacceptable because of strings hanging off the sides and splitting seams.
The story was picked up by the NBC television affiliate in Philadelphia, which got a statement from a spokesperson for the airline, explaining: “The customer’s passport was damaged and the State Department does not permit us to allow passengers with damaged documents to travel. … The danger with allowing a passenger to travel with a damaged passport is that they may not be allowed entrance into the foreign country to which they are traveling and would immediately be put back on a plane to the U.S.”
According to the hard-luck honeymooner, another airline clerk disagreed with the assessment of the passport. It does appear the matter is open to interpretation.
The U.S. Department of State website says: “If your passport has been significantly damaged, especially the book cover or the page displaying your personal data and photo, you will need to apply for a new passport. Conditions that may constitute damage requiring you to replace your passport include water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), a hole punch, or other injuries.
“Normal wear of a U.S. passport is expected and likely does not constitute damage. For instance, normal wear includes the bend of a passport after being carried in your back pocket or fanning of the visa pages after extensive opening and closing.”
It is an issue I hadn’t given thought to before, but a Google search indicates the incidents aren’t isolated. It seems that some airlines are being sticklers about the condition of passports because they can be fined if they allow someone on a flight with one that is deemed damaged when attempting to enter a foreign country.
Based on the photos the woman posted of her passport, it appeared in better shape than the one that got my distraught bar mate stranded in Philly.
Another traveler wrote that her husband’s passport was rejected by Delta in Atlanta for a flight to Barcelona . They were fortunate to be hours early for the flight and were able to get a replacement after a five-hour ordeal, and $170.
Not a fun way to start any trip. From now on I’ll look over my passport well ahead of an upcoming trip, and will always remember the forlorn fellow in Philadelphia.