Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Heidi, whose husband was unable to board an international flight:
Our puppy slightly chewed the corners by the fold of my husband’s passport. No information was affected, and the passport could still be swiped. When we got to the airport in Philadelphia for our flight to Jamaica, the skycap said he had to check our bags at the desk since the passport was damaged. American Airlines checked the bags for our flight, no problem. Before boarding the flight, we had to present our passports at the gate. That’s when the gate agent pointed out the damage, and told my husband he couldn’t board and needed a new passport.
I got on the plane to stay with our bags. The gate agent gave my husband a form to apply for an emergency passport. He had to go back to the passport office downtown, go across the street for pictures, get his new passport, and head back to airport. He got on a standby flight to Miami, where he connected to Montego Bay, and arrived at 9:30 p.m. instead of 12:30 p.m. The good news was that American Airlines didn’t charge him anything! Moral of the story, keep your passport away from the pup, and don’t try to travel on a passport that’s damaged, even only slightly!
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Heidi is right that you should avoid traveling with a damaged passport, but not all damage is treated similarly. The U.S. State Department differentiates between significant damage like tears, missing pages or water damage, and normal wear like pages that fan out over time or a booklet that bends slightly from being carried in a back pocket. Don’t assume a damaged passport (or other travel document) will still be accepted; even if it passes muster with U.S. authorities, it may be rejected elsewhere. To keep your passport in good shape, I recommend using a dedicated passport holder or a travel wallet with a passport sleeve, and store it out of reach of curious pets.
Aside from a dog chewing on your passport, plenty of other passport and visa mishaps can derail your travel plans. Common mistakes include not having enough blank pages, neglecting to ensure your passport remains valid for six months after you travel, and using a mismatched passport and travel visa. Heidi and her husband were fortunate to continue their trip mostly unscathed; an invalid passport can just as easily result in you being denied boarding with no recourse, so don’t count on having a similar experience. Your passport is the keystone of your international travel plans, so don’t wait until the last minute to make sure it’s ready to go.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Heidi a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured photo by Stephanie Verhart/Getty Images.