A couple forced to fork out thousands after making a simple naming mistake are the latest in a string of travellers whose overseas trips ended before they’d even begun as a result of easy-to-make errors.
The teen who inadvertently ruined a family holiday when he tore his passport on a night out, and the family who were denied boarding because they did not have a transit visa for Australia are just a couple more recent examples.
Perhaps it’s because, after years of pandemic-related restrictions, many have forgotten the protocol for travelling internationally. Perhaps it’s because air travel is full of tricks for young players and infrequent flyers. Or perhaps it’s just because human beings inevitably make mistakes.
Whatever the case, it’s worth brushing up on the things that can stop you from flying once you’ve arrived at the airport. Stuff Travel reached out to industry experts to help us compile this list.
Damaging your passport
The UK teen who was found to have a 1cm rip in his passport after using it as ID on a night out cost his family £1000 (NZ$2000) on flights. And then there was the Australian woman who was denied boarding after her toddler chewed on her passport. And the Christchurch couple whose dog literally ate a passport just hours before they were set to travel.
Even slight damage could be enough to derail you. This traveller’s passport was rejected because it was mouldy. A Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) spokesperson recently told Stuff Travel that there is “no set standard” for damage.
“Entry requirements to any country are at the discretion of that country’s border authority. We cannot predict how much damage or wear and tear would be acceptable to a border official on any given day.”
If a passport is ripped, water damaged or in bad condition, a traveller may be prevented from flying, the spokesperson said. Not all damage is insurmountable though. In the case of a microchip malfunction, Customs can still process the passenger manually.
Forgetting your passport
If there’s one golden rule of international air travel it’s ‘don’t forget your passport’. But when you’re rushing around, throwing last-minute items into your suitcase before your Uber arrives to take you to the airport, it’s easy enough to do.
If it’s happened to you, you’re not alone. Air New Zealand general manager airports Kate Boyer said it’s one of the reasons the airline’s international passengers are sometimes unable to fly. The solution: triple check you have your passport before leaving for the airport (put a post-it note reminder on the door if you think you might forget).
You have unpaid fines
When Customs has to prevent a traveller’s departure, it is usually because they have unpaid fines or legal restrictions against them leaving the country, such as being on parole, chief Customs officer compliance and enforcement border operations, Ben Wells, said.
The Customs website states that you may not be allowed to leave New Zealand until you pay any outstanding fines. These include student loan defaults, Family Court maintenance, and fines resulting from criminal convictions. Check with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Collections Centre if you’re unsure whether you have any such fines.
Trying to travel on a passport soon to expire
One family’s long-anticipated trip to Greece ended before they had even left the country because their passports were set to expire in a couple of months.
Even if your passport is technically valid, most airlines won’t let you travel if it is set to expire within six months. And, some countries won’t let you enter unless your passport is valid for at least six months after you fly out. The rules differ depending on the destination, so be sure to check the entry requirements for each country you’re visiting.
The name on your ticket not matching the one on your passport
An Australian couple paid A$4700 (NZ$5060) for new flights after discovering the name on the woman’s ticket did not match the one in her passport (she was named Katherine in her passport, and Kate on the ticket). They’re certainly not the only ones who’ve found themselves in this situation: Air NZ’s Boyer said naming issues are another reason passengers are sometimes turned away.
The best preventative is to triple check the spelling of your name, and other details, when booking tickets online. Or, as one traveller did, be prepared to change your name by deed poll to match the ticket.
Not signing your passport
Many Kiwis are unaware you’re meant to sign your passport as soon as you receive it. The document is not actually valid until you do.
According to the DIA, a signature is required from all passport holders other than children under 10. If you’re unable to sign your passport, you’ll need to get an endorsement – essentially a label with extra information.
Failing to apply for the necessary visa
A Bay of Plenty family booked to travel from Auckland to India via Malaysia on Indian passports were told they could not travel when they arrived at Auckland International Airport because they did not have a transit visa for Australia – despite Australia not appearing on their itinerary.
While New Zealand passport holders are not required to have transit visas for Australia, Kiwi travellers sometimes fail to get the visas they do need.
Immigration NZ (INZ) acting national manager border, Judy Cunningham, said an invalid visa is the most common reason INZ would stop someone flying.
“Where this happens, the individual would not be able to fly on the day until they had rectified their visa issue.
“Outside of this, we occasionally see individuals who have a valid visa in an old passport or have made an error on their New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA), such as a spelling mistake. However, where this happens, we aim to be as facilitative as possible and rectify the issue so the individual can still travel.”
Carrying prohibited items
Customs sometimes has to prevent a traveller from flying if they have, or are suspected of having, prohibited items on them, and there is not enough time to resolve the matter before they fly out.
You cannot take certain items out of New Zealand without a permit or consent, if at all. These include pounamu in its natural state, pāua meat, wildlife, and items covered by the Protected Objects Act.
Check Customs’ list of prohibited or restricted items before packing your bags.