Green and supergreen Italy, denial of boarding due to passport fiasco and hopping on and off in Hungary
The travel correspondent of The Independent traditionally spends mid-April at his discreet Lake Como hideaway – a luscious location where the only tiresome aspect of life arises when locals and tourists muddle him with a more permanent Como fixture, George Clooney.
Stepping briefly away from his grace-and-favour villa, Simon Calder took an hour to answer travellers’ urgent questions on a wide range of issues.
Q: I have recently booked a family holiday to Taormina in Sicily on 1 June. My wife is classed as unvaccinated because more than nine months has passed since her second dose of the vaccine. What rules are likely to be in force?
A: The beautiful hill town of Taormina in eastern Sicily, close to the restlessness of Etna and the warmth of the Mediterranean, will be a joy at the start of June. And I hope that by then Italy’s complex Covid accreditation system will have eased.
At present, the Italian government specifies two grades of passes that allow access to many public facilities: green and supergreen. Either is currently required for access to many public venues – including indoor restaurants, public transport and reaching the departures area of airports.
In practice, during my stay I have been asked only a couple of time to show one, but of course it is essential to comply with the rules wherever you are.
The supergreen pass is an easy win for British travellers who have had a Covid booster jab. Showing the NHS QR code certifying such vaccination should generate a big tick on the scanners they use. For a while, boosters were regarded as having an expiry date, but that constraint was lifted at the start of April.
The green pass has a lower bar: your wife could obtain one valid for 48 hours at a time by testing negative with a rapid Covid-19 test at a local pharmacy or test centre (hotels will point the way to the nearest). This generates a code that the traveller can use to get a temporary permit. The only current benefit of having a supergreen pass over a green pass, as far as I can see, is access to performances in theatres and sporting arenas. So you should be able to enjoy almost everything on the island together.
Having said that, all the indications are that, from 1 May, green passes (super or not) will be required only for visits to hospitals and nursing homes. So with luck your trip will be largely restriction-free.
Requirements for wearing FFP2 face masks will remain in place for the time being – though by the time you arrive, the obligation may be dropped.
Q: I was denied boarding this morning for a four-day trip to Spain by easyJet stating that my passport wasn’t valid . It was issued on 12 July 2012 and expires 12 August 2022. Any advice?
A: I am really sorry to hear yet another case in which Britain’s biggest budget airline has chosen to deny travel to a passenger with a perfectly valid travel document. For a four-day trip to Spain, your passport is valid for travel outbound up to 8 May 2022.
Just for a brief restatement of the rules: your passport needs to have been issued in the past 10 years (yours was) and be valid for at least three months after your intended date of return (yours is).
These conditions are independent: there is no need for a passport to be under nine years and nine months.
My source for this is a statement from the Migration and Home Affairs Department of the European Commission in Brussels. I was told: “Entry should be allowed to those travelling with passports issued within the previous 10 years at the moment of entry into the Schengen area.
“The condition that the passport must have been issued within the previous 10 years does not extend for the duration of the intended stay. It is enough if this condition is fulfilled at the moment of entry.
“To give a practical example, a non-EU traveller arriving on 1 December 2021 for a 20-days stay in the EU with a passport issued on 2 December 2011 and valid until 2 April 2022 will be allowed entry.”
When I received this unambiguous information I shared it with easyJet and its rivals. They are, of course, free to make their own checks with the authorities in Brussels.
Since easyJet has chosen to impose different conditions, I suggest you write to the airline seeking the stipulated denied boarding compensation (£220 or £350 depending on the length of the flight), a full refund of the fare and, crucially, associated costs such as unrecoverable hotel payments.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of planes that can take you out to Spain using your current travel document: as far as I am aware, Jet2 and British Airways are not making up their own passport rules.
Q: KLM cancelled my July Japan flights, from Humberside via Amsterdam to Tokyo Narita and back.
I was offered an alternative with a 55-minute transfer at Amsterdam airport. This is not enough time for passenger and baggage transfer. The return trip was delayed by two days with no offer of hotels or meals. I had to cancel internal flights to Nagasaki and Sendai. Should I be compensated?
A: Everything is on your side. So I don’t know if you can uncancel at this stage?
First, the outbound leg. You say: “Not enough time for passenger and baggage transfer.” Well, according to KLM, any transfer between flights arriving from and departing to non-Schengen countries (which yours is) needs just 50 minutes connecting time to be a “legal” connection at Amsterdam airport. Were anything to go awry (which is very unlikely), KLM would be responsible for getting you to your destination on the same day.
Coming back, KLM is obliged to get you back to Humberside on the day you originally booked. There are many ways of doing this (at least if you were to accept a flight to, say, Manchester airport), and it is the airline’s responsibility to find you something suitable.
So no need for a cancellation. Meanwhile, if you feel were misled as to your rights, you can complain to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Q: Why have Manchester and Heathrow airports, according to media reports,, been hit most by latest disruption?
A: Let’s look at going outbound, which for many travellers is the most crucial aspect. Manchester Airport Group’s chief executive, Charlie Cornish, has bravely conceded that he did not have enough trained and security-cleared staff. He recommends turning up three hours before your flight – though if you plan to check in luggage you should check with your airline first that the counter will be open.
I am not aware that Heathrow has suffered any particular problems outbound – my own experience and observations suggest a wait for security of no more than 10 minutes. (This is partly because British Airways is cancelling dozens of flights each day, so there are far fewer passenger than there might be.)
Inbound, though, Heathrow is suffering intermittently long hold-ups at the UK Border (passport control), and there have been very long delays for some people waiting for baggage.
The latter is firmly an airline, not an airport problem.
Q: My husband and I are heading for Budapest next weekend for a four-day break, staying on the banks of the Danube across from Parliament buildings. Do we need to fill in any forms for Hungary? Also in view of my husband’s limited mobility, would a 48-hour hop-on-hop-off bus be worth £58 for two (which also includes a one-hour river cruise)? Lastly, would you recommend trying the “ruin bars”?
A: Hungary has been in the forefront of removing travel restrictions. Some people will celebrate that, while others will deplore it. Either way, it means your trip should be very smooth from a Covid-rule perspective.
Since 7 March, travellers have been able to enter Hungary without the need for tests, form-filling or proving that you have been jabbed. At the same time the local rules requiring vaccination certificates for hotels, spas and many other venues were dropped. “The wearing of masks in public spaces is no longer mandatory, although some venues may still recommend their use,” says the tourist board.
Whatever your level of fitness, I am a big fan of hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses. I find them professionally run, informative and entertaining – and especially valuable in a big, spread-out city such as Budapest which has some long distances between sights. The addition of a brief Danube tour is a worthwhile extra, and makes the £29 per person price look pretty reasonable.
The term “ruin bars” was born in Budapest, and the concept is spreading to Prague and elsewhere. The idea is: find a near-derelict building, spruce it up (though not too much) and turn it into a bar serving locals and tourists that feels more than a little like a film set. As such, they comprise a fun dimension to the city. Szimpla Kert, in the Jewish quarter of Pest (the left bank half of the city, on the same side as Parliament), claims to be the original – and is arguably still the greatest.
Q: If I boarded a cruise in the UK that took me around the Mediterranean and returned to UK to disembark, and I didn’t actually get off the ship thus not stepping foot onshore would I avoid using up my 90 Schengen days?
A: Since the UK left the European Union, British travellers are limited to 90 days in the Schengen Area (most of the EU plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and some toddlers) out of any 180 days. Your plan would, I believe, avoid incurring any days. But it strikes me as a terrible waste of some wonderful locations.
Many people have commented that there is no easy way for Schengen frontier officials to discern if British travellers have breached the 90-day rule. Only when the Etias e-visa scheme is introduced – which is now likely to be a year from now – will it be feasible for such determinations to be made swiftly. I’ll leave that there.