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Ferry giant refuses ID card

Published 23 December 2009

A husband and wife from Hull trying to take a ferry to Rotterdam for Christmas shopping were denied boarding after the ferry’s crew refused to accept the U.K.’s new biometric ID card as a means of identification; the couple applied for the card when it was offered on a voluntary basis to the public in Greater Manchester; the card is meant to allow travel across Europe as an alternative to a passport, but the crew, saying they had never seen such a card before, insisted on the couple producing their passports; since the couple had left their passports at home, they could not take their trip

An early adopter of the U.K.’s controversial ID card was refused passage when he tried to board a ferry to Rotterdam. Norman Eastwood, from Salford, and his wife Jeanette had booked a passage from Hull with P&O Ferries on Saturday. The ID card, which has been offered on a voluntary basis to the public in Greater Manchester as part of a limited trial since last month, is meant to allow travel across Europe as an alternative to a passport.

John Leyden writes that P&O staff at check-in had never seen the card before and did not know it was a valid travel document. The unfortunate Eastwood was told he would need his passport — which he had left at home — to travel. “We had no idea the ID card was being trialed,” a P&O spokesman explained. “Mr. Eastwood turned up with a form of ID we didn’t recognize. He was told that he wasn’t going anywhere without a passport.”

Eastwood was left with little option but to abandon Xmas shopping plans and head home, some 105 miles away. He told the BBC that the incident left him feeling humiliated and “like a second-class citizen.”

Dutch passengers who used a national identity card from The Netherlands were allowed passage on the same ferry Eastwood had hoped to travel on. The ferry firm has offered Eastwood free ferry tickets and an apology for the mix-up. P&O has informed staff at all its U.K. ports about the ID card in order to prevent a repetition of the incident.

P&0 carries ten million passengers a year. If one of the U.K.’s transport main carriers does not know the ID card is being trialed, then a huge communication breakdown must have taken place.

A Home Office spokeswoman said P&O should have known about the ID card because it distributed information in the run-up to public trials. If P&O had paid a refund, then it must have been ferry firm’s fault for not knowing, she argued.

Leyden writes that P&O could, of course, have simply offered a free ticket as a gesture of goodwill. A spokesman for the ferry firm told Leyden that U.K. borders agency staff at the port (Hull) did not know about the ID card either, a suggestion strongly denied by a Home Office spokeswoman.

In a statement, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said the mix-up was an isolated incident. It defended its record about keeping carriers in the loop about travel document changes, such as the introduction of the ID card. “We are sorry to hear of Mr. Eastwood’s experience,” it said. “People have made numerous journeys around Europe using their identity cards and this seems to be an isolated incident. We have a standard and well established process for informing border agencies and carriers around the world of any change to international travel documents, which we followed in this case. We are speaking to P&O to understand why this happened and ensure that there can be no repeat of it.”