Multiple travel firms refuse ID cards as passport alternative
About as useful for European travel as a Eurostar train
The supposed usefulness of UK ID cards has been called into question by news that major travel companies are telling would-be passengers that ID cards are NOT valid travel credentials for travel in Europe.
Around 1,736 people in Greater Manchester have voluntarily paid £30 for biometric-based ID cards since a pilot programme was launched at the end of last month. The Home Office said these ID cards could be used for travel in Europe, as well as being a means of identity in opening up bank accounts and the like.
However one ID card pioneer, Norman Eastwood from Salford, was denied passage on a P&O ferry from Hull to Rotterdam on Saturday after he was told he wasn't going anywhere without his passport. Dutch passengers with national ID cards issued in The Netherlands, by contrast, were allowed passage on the same journey.
The Home Office told El Reg on Tuesday that it informed P&O and other international carriers twice about the “UK National Identity Card’s design and security features” in the the run-up to the issue of cards. It said Eastwood’s unfortunate experience was an isolated incident caused by P&O’s local staff not being aware of the National Identity Card, a gap in knowledge the ferry firm has promised to plug.
However a timely investigation  by the Manchester Evening News revealed that P&O were far from alone in not understanding how UK-issued ID cards can be used as an alternative to passports for travel in Europe.
Front-line customer service workers at nine major travel firms — including British Airways, Eurostar and BMI baby — told MEN reporters posing as would-be customers that ID cards are no good for travel. Eight of the nine firms subsequently issued statements saying that their staff had given the wrong advice but Eurostar remained uncertain. “We are unable to confirm whether the ID cards are valid on Eurostar at this time,” a Eurostar spokesman told the MEN.
Two German airlines, German Wings and Air Berlin (both of which run flights from Manchester Airport), said that UK ID cards would not be accepted until they are officially recognised by the German government.
Only four travel firms quizzed by the MEN — Easyjet, Ryanair, Brittany Ferries, and KLM — said ID cards were sufficient for travel to Europe.
In a statement, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said it remained confident that the majority of travellers will have no problems using ID cards as an alternative to passports.
The National Identity Card is a valid document for travel and is as good as a passport in Europe.
We expect all carriers in the UK to accept National Identity Cards for travel as a legal duty and we are confident that the vast majority of travellers will have no problems using their Identity Card as a travel document.
Customers who are concerned or experience problems using their National Identity Card should call the Identity and Passport Service helpline on 0300 330 0000.
The ID card scheme pilot programme that started in Manchester on 30 November has been expanded into Liverpool. Ministers most recently signed off plans  to expand the scheme, a watered-down version of an earlier, compulsory roll-out, to the north-west of England and Scotland and Wales starting 4 January. A nationwide roll-out later next year is expected.
The opposition Conservatives have pledged to scrap the ID card programme if they are elected into government by a general election that must happen before the end of June 2010. ®