By LEN PORT & INÊS LOPES [email protected]
A holidaymaker who had her passport stolen on the eve of her return home to England via Gatwick last week was delighted she followed the advice of British Airways (BA) representatives in Faro rather than that of the British Consulate in Portimão.
Gabrielle Moss had her attention diverted by thieves close to her hire car outside the Aldi supermarket at Alcantarilha. They made off with her handbag containing her passport, credit cards and cash.
She reported the theft to the police and then rang Groundforce, the company representing BA at Faro Airport.
Groundforce assured Mrs Moss that if she came to the airport in Faro the following day with the appropriate police report they would arrange documentation to allow her to board her flight and enter the UK.
As a matter of courtesy, her sister, Sheila Grollman, emailed the Portimão Consulate at 9am on the morning of the flight to inform them of her situation.
The Portimão Consulate replied at midday. Their message was not reassuring. It read: “As far as we are concerned, everyone who wishes to re-enter the UK and has lost or had a UK passport stolen must be issued with an emergency passport. This is a service provided by us in an emergency. The emergency passport costs €108. We require one passport-size photograph and a copy of the police report to issue it.”
The Portimão Consulate email continued: “The GNR are not in a position to authorise entry to the UK, as this responsibility lies with the UK Border Agency. I therefore need to inform you that your sister may go to the airport with her police report and find that the airline will not accept her for travel without the official emergency passport. I must stress that if she goes without the official documentation and is then subsequently refused travel, this is purely at her own risk.”
Mrs Moss was staying with her sister who lives here, but it occurred to her that had she been holidaying on her own, drumming up £100 without a credit card in the two-and-a-half hours before the Portimão Consulate closed may have been difficult.
The Portimão warning was disturbing but Mrs Moss decided to put her trust in Groundforce.
She told the Algarve Resident: “On my arrival at the airport, I went to the Groundforce desk. They were aware of the situation from my phone call the day before and told me not to worry, that they would sort it out.
“They printed off my passport details, which I had given to BA after I made the booking, and which is a requirement now when you book.”
She said they also contacted the British Embassy in Lisbon, who verified a few details, such as date of birth, home address etc.
“The Embassy assured me that there would be no problem – and that indeed was the case. I had no paperwork other than the notification from the GNR and the print-off of my passport details. I went through immigration at Gatwick with just the GNR document, the Embassy source having already informed Gatwick of the situation.”
Shortly after her arrival back home, Mrs Moss emailed both Groundforce and the Embassy to express her gratitude.
“The concern shown to me and the helpfulness and speed with which this matter was dealt with made me realise that there are still good people out there,” she said.
A source at the BA Press Office said: “In the event of a customer’s passport being stolen, we will work with the UK Borders Agency in order to facilitate travel where possible.”
To crown it all, an officer from the GNR in Armação de Pêra, who issued the theft report, pleasantly surprised Sheila Grollman by phoning to ask if her sister had managed to get home to the UK all right.
According to information on the website of the British Embassy in Madrid, which runs the passport operations in Iberia, “if your passport is lost or stolen in Spain or Portugal and you have an urgent need to travel, you should contact your local Consulate/Embassy to apply for an Emergency Travel Document.”
Commenting on this particular case, the British Embassy in Portugal told the Algarve Resident: “It is always our aim to provide helpful and accurate advice to British nationals who find themselves without a passport when wanting to travel to the UK.
“We regret any misunderstanding that may have occurred on this occasion. We strongly advise against travel without an official Emergency Travel Document, which is a secure and formal document that proves identification and nationality. Anyone who attempts to travel without this document may be refused boarding or may encounter difficulties at UK immigration, and is thus travelling at their own risk.”
The spokesman added: “The UK Border Agency further advises that British nationals must produce documentation establishing their nationality and identity, by way of a passport or national ID card. Anyone who has lost their passport should apply for an emergency document. Any other arrangements are solely at the discretion of the airline in consultation with the UK Border Agency.”
Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]