Train strikes, passports and hand luggage kilts: 9 travel questions answered

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From the usual questions about passport, vaccination and flight cancellation to how to travel with a kilt, readers had a wide variety of questions for TSWT’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, on Thursday.

Simon reported a somewhat slow start to his weekly ‘Ask Me Anything’ due to a wait to board a late-running bus from Montreal to Quebec City, Canada, followed by an onboard laptop ban and unreliable Wi-Fi.

But thanks to a friendly driver who turned a blind eye to the laptop as long as the sound was off and Simon sticking to “an dodgy old mobile” with “internet about as good as it was in Goa in 1992”, he was able to answer to ask.

Here are nine reader questions answered by Simon.

Is my passport still valid?

Q: My UK passport is valid until April 2023, but in September 2022 it will be 10 years old. I have to fly from Dublin to Canada this month and I am concerned about the validity. Conflicting advice online and I don’t want to lose my holiday and time is running out for an extension.

A: Always good to start with a clear question and answer. Thank you. Your passport is valid for travel to and from Canada (and Ireland) until it expires in April 2023. Have a great trip.

What compensation for flight cancellations am I entitled to?

Q: My daughter and partner were due to fly back from Bordeaux to Gatwick with BA on 17th June after a family holiday. BA canceled it with less than 24 hours notice (no specific reason given). They managed to get flights with easyJet for an extra £200 per person, returning to Gatwick on the 17th as scheduled. However, BA rejected their claim for damages, claiming the cancellation was “because BA2787 was canceled on June 17, 2022 due to industrial action across France”.

I am retired with some time to spare and have done some research. I searched a lot online but couldn’t find anything about a union action on June 17th. I then used the FlightAware website (with a free account you can search historical flights). The only one out of 11 flights to and from the UK and ROI to Bordeaux that didn’t fly was the BA flight. Seven of those flights flew within hours of BA2787. I then looked further afield in case there was an airspace problem. All flights from London to Paris, Marseille and Nantes (15 in total) flew normally. I also asked BA for brief details of the union action.

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BA yesterday rejected my daughter’s further email within hours of receiving it, claiming a union action. They gave no further explanation, nor did they explain why their flight was the only one of the 26 checked to be cancelled.

Shocking behavior from what used to be a respected airline. We plan to continue.

A: A few aspects here. Firstly, can I confirm that British Airways has refunded the cost of the easyJet flights? Then you were absolutely right to ask British Airways to demonstrate the reasons for the flight cancellation. Under European air passenger rights rules, it must provide reasonable evidence to substantiate its rejection of the claims. If not, it will be assumed that your daughter and partner are each entitled to €250 in cash compensation – including, of course, reimbursement of the cost of the easyJet flights they were obliged to purchase.

Keep a Kilt?

Q: I’m going to a wedding this summer and I’m bringing a kilt. I wouldn’t want to lose it, so I try to make sure I take it as a carry-on. It’s bulky, but I can fit it in a cabin trolley case. I am on a multi-stage trip and I have connecting flights with both BA and Swiss. Because flights are so busy, I’m afraid they’ll take the trolley case from me at the gate to go into the hold at some point. Is that more risky for connecting flights than checking in properly in the beginning?

A: No! Keep the carry-on true while keeping the Scottish tradition alive! As previously written, it is wiser than ever this summer not to check anything in, especially if you have a connecting flight. Many cases stray at hubs. If the suitcase is taken off you, it will be at the gate – where you can be 99.9 percent sure it will be loaded directly onto the plane and appear on the other side of the baggage claim. Enjoy the wedding.

Is it safe to book Skyscanner’s cheaper flights?

Q: I am looking to book flights with Latam Airlines from Santiago in Chile to Easter Island, for March next year. I live in the UK. On the UK website, the price comes in at around £2,189, which is way above my budget. However, Skyscanner directed me to the Chilean website, where the same flights come in for £566. Is it safe to book through the Chilean website? Is it generally better to book through the website of the country you will be traveling in?

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A: Great to hear you’re going to Easter Island – one of my favorite places in the world (and, being from Crawley, that’s saying something).

Besides the amazing stone heads, this piece of Chilean territory is a fragment of beauty and humanity thousands of miles from anywhere (Easter Island, not Crawley).

However, getting there is a challenge. My strong recommendation is that you book the whole range of flights through an expert such as Journey Latin America. They will be able to find the best deals and you can travel with the assurance that if something goes wrong, you have someone by your side – something i wrote in 2010.

When can I book Avanti tickets?

Q: Any idea when Avanti will have tickets available for booking to Edinburgh for August 19th?

A: After four days of national rail strikes and also a train driver’s strike, a pattern is now emerging in the behavior of train drivers on and around strike days.

As you may know, on Thursday, August 18 and Saturday, August 20, the RMT union announced industrial action against 40,000 members who work for Network Rail and many train operators, including Avanti West Coast. Understandably, the union wants to ruin as many travel plans as possible, which is why it aims to disrupt operations on August 19 without the members actually losing a day’s wages.

That said, Avanti West Coast will run some trains on all three days. However, schedules won’t be published until a week or so. All you can do is assume that you can travel on the London-Preston-Carlisle-Edinburgh route on August 19, although probably not before 8 or 9 a.m. and possibly not on the very last train.

Check out what Avanti West Coast is offering tomorrow (Friday, August 5): you can be pretty sure something similar will happen two weeks later.

Importantly, however, do not expect Advance tickets to be offered. The train operators want to deter as many potential passengers as possible, so only the usual offer of “walk-up” tickets applies.

Are my vaccinations for 2021 still valid?

Q: The full vaccination of the state of Thailand is an admission requirement. So are my vaccines for 2021 still valid or not?

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A: Thailand has honestly been all over the place in its response to the coronavirus pandemic and sustaining the tourism industry.

The current rule is proof of jab-or-test, and (as with the US and many other countries) the only time limit is that you must have completed an undergraduate course at least 14 days before. So yeah, your jabs for 2021 are fine.

Can I use my European Health Insurance Card in Spain?

Q: Can I use my Ehic card in Spain? This is valid until December 2022.

A: Yes. Once it expires, you can get a UK Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic) which, despite the name, is a bit less global than the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) that was before Brexit.

Are there long delays at Europoort?

Q: Before Covid we took mini cruises to Amsterdam, via Europoort, from Hull. We are thinking of going again this fall and winter (we like to go to Amsterdam and do some pre-Christmas shopping, sometimes an extra night when the light festival is on).

Do you know if there are long delays at passport control when we arrive in Europoort?

A: No, but my experience is that the Dutch passport officials have some interest in enforcing the ‘third country nationals’ rules the UK has requested, including tickets home, financial resources and the forfeited right to bring a cheese sandwich to take to the Netherlands.

At the end of the AMA, Simon said, “Thank you so much for some excellent questions, and during those 80 minutes I traveled 60 miles to Grantham, Quebec. Enjoy your evening.”

Check back soon for another ‘Ask Me Anything’ with Simon. You can sign up for Simon Calder’s travel week newsletter by entering your email address in the box at the top of this article or via our newsletter page.

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