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Airports: Where on-screen drama and real travel rules part ways

Dodgy character: you can’t get to the EU on a passport more than 10 years old, no matter how dashing your headshot is  (Simon Calder)
Dodgy character: you can’t get to the EU on a passport more than 10 years old, no matter how dashing your headshot is (Simon Calder)

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

“Did you pack this assault rifle yourself?”

Earlier this month I wrote about a surreal night I spent at Stansted airport: the Essex hub became a nocturnal film set for the action movie One More Shot.

“Stannywood”, as the terminal is now known, stood in for “Washington Baltimore” airport. In the resulting film, Stansted provides the backdrop for a staggering number of shootings. The terminal proves terminal for many characters, I wrote, “with a body count approaching the capacity of an Airbus A320”.

The new and rather-less-violent Channel 4 drama series Truelove is also a matter of life and death. The makers say: “Truelove wrestles with the knottiest of ethical questions out there – is it ever right to help end a life?” And, in the final episode, it has a crucial airport scene.

Here, the weapon used to prevent someone from flying was not a semi-automatic rifle – but the post-Brexit rule on British passport holders going to the European Union.

The setting: Bristol airport, at the airline desk for a flight to Malaga. David, played by Peter Egan, is on an urgent mission to Spain. He hands his passport over to the check-in agent, who studies it closely.

“Is something wrong… is there a problem?”

The check-in agent says: “OK, yep, you see?”

“What am I looking at?” asks David.

“Well, you’ve got two months and 26 days left on this. You need three months for the EU.”

“It’s a valid passport,” insists David.

“Three months for the EU/Schengen. Sorry sir. Next please.”

Sharp-eyed viewers (or those, like me, who should perhaps get out a little more) will immediately notice that David’s passport is “blue” – a type that is issued only since 2020. The earliest any such adult passport will expire is 2030.

More worryingly, this crucial plot twist confuses the rules. Flying out to the EU, a British passport must not be over 10 years old. On the planned day for coming back, three months validity must remain on the intended day of return. By dwelling only on the expiry date, there is a risk that viewers will be unaware of the 10-year stipulation.

While nobody who watches One More Shot will conclude they can henceforth turn up at the Stansted security checkpoint carrying a gun, viewers of Truelove will be forgiven for assuming only the expiry date of a UK passport is relevant for travel to the European Union.

Back at Bristol airport, David’s journey is not going well.

“I need to go to Spain today.”

“If it’s an emergency then the passport office will see you.”

“What – in London?”

“Newport, just over the bridge. Next.”

The less-than-helpful check-in agent could have pointed David to the Online Premium service, where you go through the application procedure in advance and attend an appointment (in Newport, if one is available).

A passport is promised on the spot, so long as your papers are in order. At a cost of almost £200, this is best avoided. So if you are heading for the EU, this is a good moment for me to remind you to check the passport issue and expiry dates for you and your fellow travellers: under-16s are particularly annoying because their documents expire after five years.

Right now, the evidence is that passport renewals are taking just a week. So please check: international travel involves enough drama already.