You know you shouldn’t travel on a damaged passport, but how much of a beating does your passport have to take before it qualifies as damaged? If you travel frequently, your passport will eventually end up in less-than-pristine condition. How do you tell the difference between “normal, acceptable wear and tear” and “too damaged to travel”?

What is a Damaged Passport?

So, should a crease in the back of your passport keep you from traveling? Not according to the Department of State, which told the news station that “From Passport Services perspective this problem seems to originate with the airlines. We generally don’t consider a crease to be damaged or mutilated such that it would prevent travel.”

According to the State Department’s website, the following conditions DO qualify as damage:

  • Water Damage
  • A rip or tear
  • Markings on personal data page
  • Visa pages that have been torn out
  • A hole punch
  • Other significant injuries

Of course, once you’ve been denied boarding, being in the right is cold comfort, indeed. If your passport is worn out enough to be a concern, you may decide to renew it anyway, just to be on the safe side.

If your passport is damaged, you’ll need to apply for a replacement in person. See Passport Replacement Services for more details on what to do.


What happens when you travel with a damaged passport?

Unfortunately, there’s not a bright line between these two states. As one Colorado family learned recently, that means that should you encounter an overzealous official, even normal wear-and-tear can leave you grounded.

Kyle, Dana and little Kye Gosnell were all set to head to Belize for a beach vacation.

Unfortunately, Kyle Gosnell’s well-used, well-loved passport had a large crease on the back cover. Though the family received boarding passes from Denver to Belize, they had to change planes in Dallas, Texas. After airline officials there noticed the crease on Mr. Gosnell’s passport, that is where their trip ended.

As Mr. Gosnell explained to Fox 31 Denver, “They took a look at our passports and said that my passport was mutilated, therefore I wasn’t able to fly.”

The Gosnells are unhappy about missing the first part of their vacation, of course, but what makes it even worse is that they got all the way to Dallas before they got stopped. As Dana Gosnell explained, it would have been better if they’d been stopped at the Denver airport, close to home: “There was no protocol. They don’t have the same system of rules for the Denver airport that they do for the Dallas airport.”

That’s because enforcement of the rules is left to the discretion of the airline. Since airlines can be fined heavily if they let you on an international flight without the proper documents, there’s an incentive for them to be overly cautious.

Learn about other reasons your passport may no longer be valid.

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