Airport staff ‘Googled passport rules on a phone’ – then turned away British Airways passenger

The Mallorca holiday of Hazel and Juliet Little began a week late as a result of Swissport staff at Southampton airport (Juliet Little)
The Mallorca holiday of Hazel and Juliet Little began a week late as a result of Swissport staff at Southampton airport (Juliet Little)

Swissport staff working for British Airways at Southampton airport remained unaware of post-Brexit passport rules 32 months after they took effect.

The extraordinary situation came to light when they refused travel to 82-year-old Hazel Little. She booked on BA from the Hampshire airport to Palma de Mallorca on Saturday 26 August, along with her daughter Juliet.

Hazel’s passport was valid for travel outbound to Spain up to 6 November 2023, for a stay up to 7 January 2024.

But Swissport staff running check-in for British Airways flatly refused to let her board the plane – citing non-existent rules.

As a result, she lost a week of the mother-and-daughter holiday, which cost nearly £2,000, and incurred over £500 in expenses obtaining a premium passport so she could join her daughter in Mallorca.

Juliet has been explaining the extraordinary sequence of events involving Swissport staff.

“When we arrived at check-in, the Swissport staff looked at mum’s passport and said ‘You can’t travel on this due to EU rules’,” she said.

“We were told there needed to be three months between our return date and the 10-year anniversary of the passport.”

This has never been the case. Since Brexit, UK passports must be under 10 years old on the day of departure to the EU and have at least three months remaining before the expiry date on the date of return. Hazel Little’s passport comfortably met both these conditions.

Juliet said: “We had been aware of the change and had checked her passport several months earlier and understood it to be valid. There was no budging them, though.

“There were three or four other Swissport check-in staff who all looked at the passport and agreed.

“It all seemed very haphazard: one of them was Googling the conditions on his phone and holding it up to us.

“One lady did say she would check with UK Border Force staff but came back and admitted she hadn’t spoken to them, but still it was not valid for travel.

“We were also told that perhaps we could claim on our insurance, which we knew was clearly not true.

“They said they personally would get fined if they allowed her to travel – and that they have been turning people away for this reason since the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for Swissport: “We are sorry to hear about Hazel and Juliet’s experience and the impact it had on their holiday. We are looking into the specific circumstances of what has happened here and in the meantime are conducting a thorough review of relevant training materials.”

As a result of being denied boarding while properly documented, Hazel Little is entitled to £220 in cash compensation under air passengers’ rights rules. But British Airways and the tour operator involved, Tui, have yet to make a settlement for the value of the holiday that was lost.

As soon as The Independent became aware of the wrongful denial of boarding, BA was alerted to try to ensure no further passengers suffered the same experience.

Anyone else who was wrongly turned away from Southampton airport because of the misinterpretation of passport rules by Swissport staff is also eligible to claim.