Warning: You need a valid passport to take your dream vacation to Paris

valid passport, passport requirements for travel

Shelly Clements and her husband recently headed to the airport to take off on their long-awaited trip to Paris. Unfortunately, for her, she didn’t have a valid passport.  In all her planning, she had neglected to check the passport requirements for travel — and the news wasn’t good at the check-in counter.

Passport requirements for travel to ParisThis case is a reminder that when planning a trip abroad, the number one priority on your checklist should be to make sure that you have the required documentation for the journey. Otherwise, it won’t matter what else is on that list, because you won’t be going.

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Harsh, but true.

Heading to the airport without a valid passport

Clements’ problem was not as dire as that of other travelers who have contacted us with similar stories because her passport problem was caught before she was allowed to board the plane.

But the correction that allowed the couple to take off as planned cost her $4,000.

“When we arrived at the SFO airport I suddenly discovered that my passport would expire one and a half weeks short of the required time that Schengen countries require,” she reported. “Air France told me that I did not have a valid passport to fly on my current round-trip itinerary.”A valid passport is needed for foreign travel

Clements explained that she had never heard of the Schengen agreement or the passport requirements for U.S. citizens to visit those member countries before that moment.

Maybe you haven’t either. But if you plan to travel to Europe on a U.S. passport, you should know how it applies to you.

Checking the passport requirements for travel to Paris

As explained by the U.S. State Department, the Schengen countries are 26 European countries that require U.S. passport holders to have a minimum of three months’ validity on their passports, beyond their dates of travel, for entry.

Clements didn’t.

But a quick-thinking Air France representative explained to the couple that they could still board their flight on schedule if they canceled her current round-trip ticket and rebooked a new flight. This ticket would have her return within the time period that would satisfy the passport requirements for entry to Schengen countries.

Without a valid passport, you’re not going to France

The plan would work, but it came with a $4,000 price tag.

Clements believed that because her business class ticket had a change fee listed as $450, that this meant that she could switch her flight to any new flight for just $450. She wanted to know if we thought this was correct for Air France to make such a profit on her mistake.

“Are you saying that $4k was reasonable because of Schengen? Could they have charged me $8k? $16k? Or more?” she asked. “I now understand Schengen, what I do not understand is the exorbitant amount ($4,000) that was demanded for me to board. Please explain.”


The $450 change fee is just the fee to be permitted to change the ticket. When Clements’ ticket was canceled and rebooked, it was necessary to rebook a new round-trip ticket in business class at a walk-up fare.

Walk-up fares are some of the most expensive fares that you will encounter. And a business class walk-up fare to France, as Clements discovered, can cost thousands of dollars extra.

The unfortunate news

A valid passport is needed to travel to ParisI broke the news to Clements that she had paid a fee to save her trip that was within a range that could be reasonably expected.

Additionally, Air France had done several things to mitigate any further costs for the Clements.

When Shelly arrived in France, she went to the U.S. Embassy and renewed her passport. With the new expiration date, she was able to change her return flight back to the original date. However, now her seat wasn’t available on that flight. So Air France adjusted her flight and her husband’s with no further change fee.

Lastly, when Clements’ husband complained to Air France about the exorbitant fee that was charged to correct their problem, they were offered a “gesture of goodwill” in the form of a $750 travel voucher. This voucher came with a reiteration from Air France that it is always the passenger’s responsibility to know and possess all required travel documents.

A settlement?

Clements asked me if they should accept this “settlement.”

In these situations, when I am advocating a case, I think it’s really important to cut to the chase.

The $750 is not a “settlement,” but simply a goodwill gesture from an airline that sympathized with her plight. Air France actually owed her nothing.

As a francophile myself, I reminded her that despite this misadventure she must have had a lovely time in Paris. And since the mistake was her own, it would be better to focus on the positive.

Clements’ response made me laugh and realize that she was a reasonable traveler who was simply looking for clarification.

A tough lesson learned

“Damn! Well, it’s a tough lesson learned,” Clements told me. “We did have a wonderful time. Thanks so much for talking me down. All the best to you and Chris’ crew.”

And all the best to you, too, Shelly. Take that $750 Air France voucher and plan a new adventure — just remember to check your passport before heading to the airport. Au revoir!

35 thoughts on “Warning: You need a valid passport to take your dream vacation to Paris

  1. Hypothetical question: I wonder what would have happened if the return flight had been on a different airline or was even a separate Air France ticket? Would Air France still have prevented her travel? If not, then could she have purchased a new one-way ticket for the return, avoiding the high walk-up fare for the outbound?

    1. one way tickets are actually MORE money than roundtrips – and no new ticket needed to be issued in this case, as they were only changing the return portion – but based on availability, may have meant a big bump up, as the discounted biz seats are usually long gone by then, so not hard to see how it can cost this much more

      1. Two one way tickets are often more expensive than a roundtrip, but one one-way usually isn’t. At least, I’m on the Air France site and can’t find any pricing scenario a week out where a one-way ticket from Paris to NYC would be more than buying a whole new rountrip fare.

        Either way, i’m still curious if Air France would have enforced the passport validity rule if the OP had return flights booked on a separate, unconnected carrier. In that case, the OP could have purchased a fully refundable one-way ticket on that carrier as “proof” to Air France that they were returning home within the specified window. Obviously this is all after the fact experimentation 🙂

          1. I’m saying why didn’t they just buy one additional single one-way return ticket within the acceptable validity period — using the outbound portion of their already-purchased round trip to get there.

            Net result (unless I’m reading it wrong) – the OP ultimately purchased two round trip tickets in order to take this trip. I’m suggesting they could have purchased one round trip ticket and one one-way ticket with the same result.

    2. In most instances, if you are denied entry due to improper documentation, you are immediately deported via the same carrier which transported you to the port of entry (denial actually). This makes airlines and cruise lines very responsible in checking documentation before boarding, as they will have to give you a seat IMMEDIATELY on the next flight back to where you originated. Think of a full fare one way ticket from Paris to San Francisco, approximately €3200.

      1. This has nothing to do with improper documentation or an expired passport. Her passport would have been valid upon arrival. Nothing to do with not getting admitted to the country, just the carrier’s presumption that she could have overstayed the validity.

        1. It is improper documentation as the Schengen Area requirements clearly state that your passport must have 3 months of validity for you to enter as they are issuing you a visa which permits you to travel throughout the area for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. Hence the airlines, for the most part require 6 months on your passport before boarding.
          The Schengen area is concerned with your ability to RETURN to your point of origin at the EXPIRATION of your visa, not your ability to demonstrate that you are a U.S. citizen upon arrival.
          Info may be found here:
          or here:

          1. And she did have three months validity to enter – she entered the very same day on the same passport. The passport the airline let her fly on is exactly the same as the passport she showed up with.

        2. Wrong, it’s not about overstaying, it’s about the remaining time to expiration of your passport when you enter the country. If the airlines did not enforce the rule at departure, then you can be denied entry on arrival and the airline is forced to transport you back to where you came from.

          1. You didn’t read the story.

            It lays it right out in the article:

            “But a quick-thinking Air France representative explained to the couple that they could still board their flight on schedule if they canceled her current round-trip ticket and rebooked a new flight. This

            This ticket would have her return within the time period that would satisfy the Schengen requirement.”

            She bought new tickets and still arrived in France on the very day she had originally planned to. The return travel date was the issue, not the validity of the passport on arrival.

            This was the entire reason for my question to begin with. Why not just get a new RETURN ticket to satisfy Air France, rather than canceling and re-ticketing both the outbound and the return?

  2. This is not limited to the Schengen countries. Many countries require that one’s passport be valid for a certain amount of time beyond your expected stay. And not all European countries are the same, though most are. The UK and Ireland, for example, have different requirements.

    And don’t forget any visas that may be needed.

    1. I agree. Airlines could do a better job of listing potential visa and passport requirements during the purchase process.

      1. Passengers have to take some responsibility for themselves and not expect the airlines to remind them of everything. Being an informed flyer is a part of traveling.

    2. Exactly, every country in this world, where someone travels, gets a 90 day visa regardless if they stay 2-3 0r 30 days…..the traveler’s passport should be valid for 3 months from the time they intend to return home to the US. Period.

  3. Use a travel agent. Passports are the first thing I ask about when someone says they want to leave the country.

  4. I find it incredible the number of people that assume the possession of a currently-valid US passport entitles them to entry in any country they wish to travel to, no matter what. It would never occur to me to NOT check the State Dept. website for entry requirements.

    And the Schengen agreement doesn’t even really have much to do with her problem, since passport validity requirements aren’t unusual, treaty or not.

    This problem (passport not valid long enough) happens all the time; so much so that the State Dept. made an in-house video about it: https://youtu.be/4T0RqyF1nsE. (And, bonus points for the State Dept. showing how many lines you’ll have to stand in to fix it, and for actually filming the video at Dulles, instead of farming the video out!)

  5. The problem is you need to keep rechecking in case the rules change. I’m a U.S. citizen and my husband is Canadian. We planned a trip to Spain and checked everything when we purchased our tickets. He only needed his passport to enter the country. But only 2 weeks prior to our departure, Spain changed its entry requirements so that Canadian visitors required a visa. We weren’t notified of any change and the airline would not allow him to board. We never went.

    1. Was this years ago? When Canada caught the Spanish stealing fish (catching too small a size) off the coast of Newfoundland years ago? The boat then fled into international waters. Canada impounded the ship, jailed the captain and chartered a barge which they parked outside the UN headquarters with the illegal Spanish fishing nets hung over the side, for all the world to see. Spain then decided to require Canadians to get a visa to go and spend money in their country. However, although I don’t believe a visa is now required, Spain is not on my list of countries to bother going to.

  6. I’ve mentioned this before but this is a new context with high relevancy: why not build into smartphone booking apps the passport identity page scan that takes place at the airport? Let the passenger find out about visa and passport renewal requirements before booking, rather than when it’s too late.

    1. Ultimately, the airlines do not want the extra burden. Plus it is not what the requirements are at the time of booking, but at the time of travel. vmacd’s situation above describes one scenario perfectly. Visa was not required at time of booking, but it was at time of travel. The husband could have changed citizenship during that time as well. The rules are more complex if a minor is traveling — especially with one parent.

      The burden ultimately falls on the passenger to ensure that he/she meets the legal requirement at the time of travel. With all of the rules and exceptions, the airlines try to ensure compliance at the gate.

      If done at booking, this case would then be replaced with similar cases where the airline didn’t notify the traveler that the visa requirements changed. Or various other reasons we see often here. How many stories have there been with names on ticket not matching passports? That is simple. Passport expiration and visa requirements are much more complex.

      1. Yet airlines have no trouble doing this check at the airport when the possibility of walloping the customer with walkup ticket fees exists, do they? And as you point out, doing a passport scan at booking would ensure that the passenger name matched the document, cutting out those lucrative name fixup fees.

        1. Because THEY assume the $10000 penalty when they fly you without the proper paperwork — she’s lucky the airline was willing to offer a rebook option for her

          1. Yes of course: any employee action that doesn’t leave another customer stranded and weeping at an airport counter is a huuuuuge and uncalled-for favor.

    2. How much would this company have to charge for this app to offset the liability issues? Every mistake leaves them on the hook for thousands of dollars. And would the average traveler pay that much for this app?

      1. A scan at booking wouldn’t be a substitute for the airport check, since as indicated the terms can change between booking and travel day, but a pre-scan to catch the majority of documentation error cases, starting with that dismayingly common “I need a passport for THIS trip?” would be really helpful.

      2. UPDATE: Remember last week’s article about trusted traveler apps? I downloaded Mobile Pass, and guess how it sets up your user profile: by SCANNING YOUR DAMN PASSPORT PAGE. So airline employees, tell me again how expensive and infeasible it would be to license that scrap of code for use in your booking apps?

    3. United’s app had some kind of feature like this for online check-in. It was absolutely terrible though – after scanning your passport you had to then check a box for “US Citizen” or “ESTA Required”. This made every Canadian passenger ineligible to check in through their app.

  7. I know, that every country in the world, that issues a 90 day stay entry visa into their country, requires that the passport of the traveler, have at least that many days available regardless where that person is traveling…….C’mon people really?

  8. “It was necessary to rebook a new round-trip ticket in business class at a walk-up fare.”

    Was it really? Economy was sold out? She likely could have saved a bundle by downgrading.

  9. Because she may have actually booked the most restrictive biz class fare, and it would have been a full biz class fare at walkup – which is a whoppingly big difference

  10. She’s lucky that the Schengen requirement is only for 3 months – quite a few countries require 6 months, in which case she would’ve been completely SOL.

    Travelers, take responsibility for your actions, or get a travel agent. This is not the airlines responsibility and there are plenty of resources available for you to get the information you need regarding proper documentation.

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