Train strikes, passports and carry-on kilts: 9 travel questions answered by expert Simon Calder

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From the usual passport, vaccination and flight cancellation queries to how to journey with a kilt, readers had a wide-range of questions for The Independent’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, on Thursday.

Simon reported a slightly slow start to his weekly ‘Ask Me Anything’ due to waiting to board a late-running bus from Montreal to Quebec City in Canada, followed by an onboard laptop ban and dodgy WiFi.

However, thanks to a friendly driver turning a blind eye to the laptop as long as the sound was off and Simon tethering to “a dodgy old mobile” with “internet about as good as it was in Goa in 1992”, he was able to answer questions.

Here are nine reader questions answered by Simon.

Is my passport still valid?

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

A: Always good to start with a straightforward question and answer. Thank you. Your passport is valid for travel to and from Canada (and Ireland) up to and including its expiry date in April 2023. Hope you have a great trip.

What flight cancellation compensation am I entitled to?

Q: My daughter and partner were due to fly back from Bordeaux to Gatwick with BA after a family holiday on 17 June. BA cancelled it with less than 24 hours notice (no specific reason given). They managed to get flights with easyJet for about £200 per person extra, arriving back at Gatwick on the 17th as planned. However, BA has refused their claim for compensation, stating that the cancellation was “because BA2787 on 17 June 2022 was cancelled due to industrial action throughout France”.

I’m retired with a little time on my hands and did some research. I searched widely online but could find no mention of any industrial action on 17 June. I then used the FlightAware website (a free account allows you to search historical flights). The only one of the 11 flights to and from the UK and the ROI to Bordeaux that didn’t fly was the BA one. Seven of those flights flew within a few hours of BA2787. I then searched further afield in case there was an airspace issue. All flights from London to Paris, Marseille and Nantes (15 in all) flew as normal. I also asked BA to provide brief details of the industrial action.

BA rejected my daughter’s further email yesterday within a few hours of receipt, claiming industrial action. They gave no further explanation, nor did they explain how their flight was the only one of the 26 checked that was cancelled.

Shocking behaviour from what used to be a respected airline. We intend to pursue further.

A: A couple of aspects here. First, can I confirm that British Airways has paid back the cost of the easyJet flights? Next, you were quite right to ask British Airways to demonstrate the reasons for cancelling the flight. Under European air passengers’ rights rules, it must provide reasonable evidence to back up its rejection of the claims. Unless it can do so, the presumption is that your daughter and partner are entitled to €250 each in cash compensation – as well, of course, as a refund of the cost of the easyJet flights they were obliged to buy.

Carry on kilt?

Q: I’m traveling to a wedding this summer and I’m taking a kilt with me. I wouldn’t want to lose it, so I’m trying to make sure I take it as hand luggage. It’s bulky, but I can fit it in a cabin trolley case. I’m on a multi-leg trip and I have connecting flights with both BA and Swiss. With flights being so busy, I’m concerned that they’ll take the trolley case off me at the gate to go in the hold at some point. With connecting flights, is that riskier than just checking it in properly at the beginning?

A: No! Keep the cabin baggage faith as you keep the Scots tradition alive! As previously written, this summer more than any before it is wise not to check anything in – especially if you have a connecting flight. Many cases go astray at hubs. If the case is taken off you, it will happen at the gate – where you can be 99.9 per cent certain it will be loaded straight onto the plane and appear on the baggage carousel at the other end. Enjoy the wedding.

Is it safe to book Skyscanner’s cheaper flights?

Q: I am looking at booking flights with Latam Airlines from Santiago in Chile to Easter Island, for next March. I live in the UK. On the UK website, the price is coming in at around £2,189, which is far beyond my budget. Skyscanner however has directed me to the Chilean website, where the same flights are coming in at £566. Is it safe to book via the Chilean website? Is it generally better to book via the website of the country you will be travelling in?

A: Marvellous to hear that you are going to Easter Island – one of my favourite places in the world (and, as I come from Crawley, that’s saying something).

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

Getting there is a challenge, though. My strong recommendation is that you book the whole sequence 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 anything goes awry, you have someone on your side – something I wrote in 2010.

When can I book Avanti tickets?

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

A: After four days of national strikes on the railways, and a train drivers’ stoppage as well, a pattern is now emerging of train operators’ behaviour on and around strike days.

As you may know, the RMT union has called industrial action for 40,000 members working for Network Rail and many train operators, including Avanti West Coast, on Thursday 18 and Saturday 20 August. The union, understandably, wants to wreck as many travel plans as possible, and so the idea is to disrupt operations on 19 August without members actually losing a day’s pay.

Having said that, Avanti West Coast will be running some trains on all three days. However, schedules will not be published for another week or so. All you can do is assume that you will be able to travel on the London-Preston-Carlisle-Edinburgh route on 19 August, though probably not before around 8 or 9am and possibly not on the very last train.

See what Avanti West Coast is offering tomorrow (Friday 5 August): you can be fairly sure something similar will run two weeks later.

Importantly, though, don’t expect Advance tickets to be on offer. The train operators are keen to deter as many prospective passengers as possible, and so only the usual range of “walk-up” tickets will apply.

Are my 2021 vaccinations still valid?

Q: Thailand state being fully vaccinated is an entry requirement. So are my 2021 vaccines still valid or not?

A: Thailand has, frankly, been all over the place in terms of its response to the coronavirus pandemic and keeping its tourism industry going.

The current rule is proof of jab-or-test, and (as with the US and many other nations) the only time stipulation is that you must have completed an initial course at least 14 days earlier. So yes, your 2021 jabs are fine.

Can I use my European Health Insurance Card in Spain?

Q: Will I be able to use my Ehic card in Spain? It 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 rather less global than the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) used to be before Brexit.

Are there long delays at Europoort?

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

Do you know if there are long delays at passport check when we get to Europoort?

A: No, but in my experience the Dutch passport officials are taking some interest in enforcing the “third country national” rules the UK asked to become subject to, including tickets home, financial resources and the forfeited right to take a cheese sandwich into the Netherlands.

At the end of the AMA, Simon said: “Thanks very much for some excellent questions, and during that 80 minutes I have travelled 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 putting your email in the box at the top of this article or via our newsletters page.

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