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Thoughts & Views: Before you take that overseas trip, read this

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With the summer vacation season upon us, those of us fortunate enough to be able to afford it will be booking flights to destinations around the globe.

So a reminder: Make sure your passport is up to date.

Should be pretty simple to check, you would think: If your passport hasn’t expired, stands to reason you should be good to go, right?

Nope.

Don’t get caught like a fool holding your luggage at the airline terminal and being told in no uncertain terms that even though your passport is in good standing, you can’t get on the plane because your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your intended date of departure.

That’s right, folks. So says the U.S. Department of State.

And don’t expect your booking agency or your airline to warn you before you purchase your tickets.

How do I know? Because, fellow travelers, it happened to me. So a word to the wise so you don’t get stuck like I did.

Last month, I had a booking, through a third party agency, for a round-trip flight to Nice, France, last month. I would be leaving – with two friends – from Kennedy Airport in New York on a Wednesday night and returning to Kennedy on Sunday.

Or so I thought.

When I got to the airport, I tried to scan my passport – with its expiration date of June 21, 2014 – through the terminal’s kiosk computer but it wouldn’t take so an attendant referred me to the airline ticket counter.

There, an airline ticket agent examined my passport and promptly informed me I couldn’t board the plane because of “a new law” that mandated a minimum of a 90-day window for passport validity for designated countries.

If the airline allowed me to board, the agent told me, not only would they get slapped with a “big fine,” but, more importantly to me, French authorities would probably refuse me entry to their country, even if I swore up and down that “Casablanca” is my favorite film – Vive la France!

The agency suggested that I may want to visit the American Embassy in Manhattan to see if, perhaps, they’d issue a waiver or expedite the renewal of my passport so that, perhaps, I could fly out in another day or two. I explained that option wouldn’t be practical since our trip would be so short to begin with.

Fortunately, my travel companions were adequately prepared so they could fly. I took a cab back to Jersey.

The airline wouldn’t give me a refund but they agreed to extend me credit for the value of the round-trip for up to a year from the date of the ticket’s purchase.

So what’s the point of having an expiration date to begin with? You got me.

Seems all this craziness dates from June 26, 2013, when the European Union published a regulation requiring “third country nationals entering the Schengen area [26 European countries, including France] … to hold a travel document valid for at least three months after the intended date of departure from the territory of the member states.” The new rule took effect July 19, 2013.

And, on its website, (as I later discovered), the U.S. Department of State reminds us that, “you may be refused boarding by the airline at your point of origin or while transferring planes, or you could be denied entry when you arrive in the Schengen area.”

That’s the official explanation but still a mystery is why the EU took the trouble to change the rules. One could speculate that it may be a post-9/11 phenomenon, having the purpose of controlling the movement of suspicious travelers through Europe but who knows?

Here are the countries that are part of the Schengen Borders Agreement: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

So that’s it: my public service announcement is complete. Now you are warned so take heed and put the warning into practice.

And, bon voyage!

– Ron Leir

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