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French lesson

June 03, 2007|CATHARINE HAMM

Question: My wife, our three grown daughters (ages 18, 20 and 23) and I recently traveled on Air France from LAX to Rome with a change of planes in Paris. When we arrived in Paris, French customs noticed that the 18-year-old's passport had expired five days before. Despite our pleas to call the U.S. Embassy for an extension, within an hour she was placed on an Air France flight home. Air France personnel were as unhelpful as customs officials, and I was not allowed to accompany her. The next day, my daughter renewed her passport (on an emergency basis), and I purchased a new one-way ticket for her to travel from L.A. to Rome. Doesn't the airline share some responsibility?

Richard Weston

Beverly Hills

Answer: There's enough blame to go around here that everyone can share in it.

First -- and can we say this too often? -- check your passport, even if you think you know when it expires. Really, it's OK to be obsessive compulsive about this. And, incidentally, keep in mind that some countries will not allow you to enter if your passport expires within six months, so if yours is up soon, go ahead and get it renewed.

The State Department also reminds that some countries require at least two blank visa pages, so while you're being obsessive about the expiration, check this too.

Now for the sticking point: There is the tiniest little problem nowadays with getting a passport quickly. Used to be we could get one within about five or six weeks. But recent changes in regulations mean more and more people need the travel documents, and routine service now takes about 10 weeks. You can get expedited service, of course. You can even hire an expediter to do it for you. Whatever you decide to do, this is not the time to be a procrastinator.

Second, it is important to take with you the contact information for every embassy and consulate in every country you'll be in -- even if it's just in transit. You can find that information at Print out the page and put it with your (newly reissued) passport.

Third, if you encounter trouble, you're on your own, at least if you're flying this carrier, which could have caught the passport problem before the Westons left. Here's what Air France had to say: "It is ... the responsibility of the passenger to check/verify the validity of all required travel documents. Air France, like other carriers, does not assume any liability for refused entries."

OK, it wasn't Air France's responsibility. But doesn't it have a moral responsibility to help a human in need? Or does that responsibility end once the ticket is paid for?

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