When it’s time to travel, we’ve all heard – or said – something like this regarding a damaged passport:
“It’s not that bad, it’s just a crease across my face.”
“I only got a little water on it, it still works.”
“So what? It’s only a small rip.”
I found myself saying similar things last week as I was directed to a check-in counter at Pearson, after the automated kiosk declined my passport due to a small crease across the photo. Turns out my passport picture may have bigger problems than a less-than-flattering expression on my face, which I’ve been told makes me look like Julian from Trailer Park Boys (the black T-shirt didn’t help matters).
Thankfully, Air Canada’s human check-in agents were more lenient and let me through, but not without a word of caution to replace my passport.
I should count myself lucky, as it turns out even minimal damage can cause travel headaches, as a Winnipeg man recently found out: according to the CBC, when Daniel Hince was about to board a Sunwing flight bound for Varadero in early January, he was almost denied boarding after a check-in agent accidentally caused a small tear to the photo page of Hince’s passport.
While he was ultimately allowed to board, Hince then ended up having to explain to Cuban authorities why his passport was ripped (Cuba requires all travellers to have scannable passports), followed by a back-and-forth with Sunwing and the Canadian Consulate regarding passport replacement and cost reimbursement; in the end, Sunwing agreed to cover any expenses Hince incurred while replacing his passport.
Transport Canada’s advice
So how much damage is too much damage?
According to Transport Canada, even a small passport imperfection should be immediately fixed, with the agency advising Canadians to replace the document immediately or risk trouble while travelling, including denial of entry at border crossings or boarding a flight.
Transport Canada stated that a passport is considered damaged if it:
- makes it difficult to identify the holder
- looks like it has been changed or falsified
- has been denied by an airline or at a point of entry due to damage
In the case of Hince, Transport Canada’s Peter Liang told PAX that “It is at the discretion of airlines and border authorities to assess the condition of a passport when it is presented to them and to ensure that their requirements are met,” adding that “if a bearer has concerns about damage to the passport issued to them, they should have it replaced to avoid the risk of encountering any issues.”
While Canadian passports meet the International Civil Aviation Organization’s durability standards, Transport Canada advises passport holders to protect the document from water or other liquids and extreme environments. However, passports are not invincible against the teething powers of babies or puppies, as Transport Canada lists ‘chewing marks from a child or pet’ as among the most common types of damage. Other examples include:
- missing pages
- unauthorized markings
- tears in one or more pages
- exposure to water or humidity
- separation of the cover and inside pages
- other forms of damage that aren’t listed here.
For travellers questioning the condition of their passport, Transport Canada advises them to plan ahead and contact the airline before flying or even visiting a passport office so they can look at it and make an assessment. It’s good to plan ahead, as both airlines and border authorities can deny entry at their discretion.
Replacing a damaged passport? A new passport will have to be obtained through a general application, as renewals are not accepted, Transport Canada said.
It’s also worthwhile to note that whether their passport is lost, stolen or damaged, travellers who replace too many passports are likely to face some restrictions when applying for a replacement, said Transport Canada. These include:
- proof of travel before issuance of a new passport
- limited passport validity
- refusal of replacement application.
As for myself, replacing my passport is at the top of a ever-growing to-do list!
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