Between the forcible removal of an already-seated passenger and a dress code that barred some passengers from wearing leggings on a flight, recent controversies at United Airlines have brought new attention to the policies that govern — and sometimes complicate — air travel.
Roslindale resident Michelle Novelle and her five sons ran afoul of another such rule at Logan International Airport on Monday, one that travelers planning summer trips should know about: A passport can become invalid before it has expired.
Novelle and her sons, 12 to 19 years old, were not allowed to board a British Airways flight for a weeklong trip to Finland because some of their passports expire in June and July.
The denial wasn’t the result of an airline policy or even a US government regulation. Other countries’ governments set the standards for acceptable documentation from US citizens.
In most of Europe, you can be denied entry into a country if your passport is set to expire within three months of a planned departure date. Many nations in Asia and South America are even more stringent, requiring that a passport be valid for six months beyond the travel date.
Novelle criticized British Airways and the online travel booking site Orbitz — where she brought the tickets — for not warning her the upcoming expirations could be a problem.
“I was completely blindsided by the whole thing,” she said. “They should tell you in advance. They should give you a heads up that this could happen, that it’s a possibility.”
Novelle is trying to reschedule the trip for the summer. That may prove pricey: Novelle said she has been told she must pay both a rebooking fee and the price difference between the tickets for April and for the summer. That could amount to thousands of dollars, she said.
“We’re sorry to hear that our customers had an upsetting experience, but unfortunately this was beyond our control,” British Airways said in an e-mail, noting that its website includes information on passport requirements.
Orbitz did not respond to a request for comment.
Paul Hudson, president of the passenger advocacy organization FlyersRights.org, said there is little recourse for passengers prevented from boarding a plane because their passports expire soon.
“We advise people that they should get their passports renewed if they’re less than a year from expiration, just to be safe,” Hudson said. “We also tell people that if you’re traveling to different countries, you need to check with the embassies of these countries. . . . There should be more information available, but that’s not the case right now.”
Airlines and booking companies generally consider the early passport renewal a matter of passenger responsibility, and there are no regulations requiring the companies to alert passengers to a potential problem, Hudson said.
Travel insurance doesn’t typically cover flights that passengers can’t make because of a looming passport expiration, he added.
Novelle said she may not have run into the problem if Orbitz’s confirmation e-mail had included a short notice that international travelers should check the State Department’s website.
The e-mail does include a link that indicates international travelers must show “proof of citizenship,” but there is no explicit language about the timing of passport expirations. Clicking on the link brings users to a visa and passport information website. From there, they must go to the site’s “frequently asked questions” section and scroll more than halfway down to see that most nations require a passport to be at least six months shy of its expiration date.