Protecting travellers who miss flights because of airport security delays

Imagine you’ve turned up at the airport 3 hours early for your flight. It could be a much-anticipated and saved-for holiday for the whole family or a quick business trip.

You’ve taken out travel insurance which covers you for delays – but then, just as you are getting onto the plane, you’re stopped and questioned by officials for security reasons.

You’re not detained, all’s well, and you’re allowed to fly – but the length of time you were questioned for means you’ve now missed your flight.

You might think your travel insurer will cover you for losses in buying a new ticket.

Contacting your travel insurer, you’re told there is no hard proof of the stop or why it occurred – so they won’t be paying out. Policies often exempt security stops from coverage. The next flight isn’t till tomorrow, so now you have to pay for new flights and accommodation for the night for your whole family.

Worse, many travel companies will not allow you to travel on your original return flight if you didn’t fly out on the outbound flight – so you have to buy another ticket back home for the end of your trip too!

This is the reality for many of those stopped and questioned, but not detained, under ‘Schedule 7’ of the Terrorism Act.

It’s particularly likely to be a reality for those from certain BAME backgrounds: of the 10,000 people stopped last year, 28% were from Asian backgrounds despite making up a far fewer percentage of the travelling populations. In 2018, working with LDCRE, Lib Dem peer Lord Paddick asked the Government to consider collecting further data on religion of those stopped to help monitor for potential discrimination – but this is not a reality yet.

It’s not just people from BAME backgrounds. People with disabilities or certain illnesses can find their equipment or medication needs extra checks beyond the initial screening. Parents travelling with children with different surnames to them often face further scrutiny.

The issue isn’t the checks – it’s the lack of a receipt given by officials to show the check has taken place and why in case you miss your flight.

Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality discussed this with the insurance industry. They suggested a minor reform: security officials should provide a receipt to those stopped and questioned, to allow for fair reimbursement while preventing fraudulent claims.

This would be similar to receipts given for those questioned, not just detained, under Stop and Search in the community. Those stops are much more common than Schedule 7 stops, so the costs and time for providing receipts for Schedule 7 stops should be manageable.

However, when we asked the Government about implementing such a ‘receipt’ solution, they said they will only give receipts for those who are detained – not those questioned, who just given a ‘generic’ leaflet explaining the process. Unsurprisingly, this leaflet is not considered a receipt by travel insurers.

This is a relatively minor issue affecting very small numbers – but it is an important one.

It disproportionally affects non-white passengers, can have a major impact on disabled travellers, and can impact people who don’t take on their partner’s surname before having kids. It can leave passengers significantly out of pocket to the tune of hundreds or thousands of pounds.

LDCRE are lobbying the Government to change this with a simple, quick solution – please write or Tweet to your MP and join our #TravelWhileBAME campaign here.

* Dr Mohsin Khan is Vice-Chair of Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality. He is also a member of the Federal Policy Committee and Vice-Chair of the Lib Dem Health and Care Association.

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4 Comments

  • Paul Murray 24th Feb '20 - 3:12pm

    A few years ago while travelling on business from London to New York I was told at Heathrow that my passport was being taken for closer inspection and I might need to wait some time. This had never happened to me before. Curiously it happened at exactly the same time to the person checking in next to me. He was BAME and was PA to a well known business person. He told me that this always happened to him and that almost invariably the person checking in next to him would find the same thing happening to them, as though to give the impression that it was just random. We sat there for an hour and eventually my passport was returned without a word of explanation. I *did* make the flight but literally by seconds and only after being rushed to the gate on one of those electric cart things. I have no doubt that everything described in this article is the routine experience of far too many people just trying to go about their lives.

  • Mohsin Khan 24th Feb '20 - 8:43pm

    Just to add that what we call for is already existing Lib Dem policy.

    Please do encourage your friends and family to email or tweet your MP at https://ldcre.org.uk/en/page/travelwhilebame

  • Michael Scott 25th Feb '20 - 1:32pm

    I don’t see why insurance companies should be picking up the tab, either. The government should be reimbursing any costs incurred by anyone who misses their flight for security checks, unless proof of criminal activity was discovered by the checks. That will encourage them to staff things properly and get the checks done quickly.

  • Johnny McDermott 27th Feb '20 - 10:16am

    Would caution Michael Scott to remember the reason for these checks – they are essential. However, Mohsin describes a lamentable situation. Although it would obviously be better not to happen at all, as a practical solution, I thought maybe they can give people stopped an official notice and saying it happened. But that would have to be in no way kept on record. Smoke-fire is an addage for the reason most are overly suspicious. So maybe a letter with a reference number that can be checked by insurance but is anonymous (no data attached but the time and date perhaps). Michael Scott’s point on insurance picking up the bill gave me pause, but then no. That is literally what they’re for – to pool risk of what is, it would appear, a necessary evil in plane travel to all of society. It’s unfair, as Mohsin points out, that it is not an inconvenience, no, a pretty worrying event really, borne by society particularly easily. Argh, then we have another problem. Would insurance companies profile and raise premiums on those travellers? I’d like to say “I assume that’s not legal”, but I’m feeling cynical about that suddenly.

    It seemed so simple at the start of this reply…

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