Families travelling to the America in the autumn could find themselves stranded at the airport if they haven`t followed new US passport rules, British Airways has warned.
The airline wants to raise awareness of the new legislation - which calls for all children, including babies - to have their own passports.
In addition, the US State Department now wants citizens of 27 mostly western European countries, who normally do not need a visa to travel to the US, to have updated `machine readable` passports.
These feature two lines of coded data at the bottom of the photo page that can be swiped. If they do not, passengers must go through the time consuming visa application process.
The new rules, effective from October 1, are part of tighter passport and security controls in the US following the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. While most affected countries have introduced the so-called `high-tech` passports, it is not clear how many are in circulation.
British Airways is trying to establish how many people in the UK could be caught out by the deadline - and therefore stranded - by having the old passports.
Jim Forster, British Airways’ government and industry affairs manager, said: “We`ve established that about 200,000 British citizens living in the UK and abroad don`t have machine readable passports, but it could be more than that if children are travelling on their parent’s passports.”
There could also be hundreds of thousands travelling with the `wrong` passports from other EU states and countries like Japan.”
He added: “We don`t want to see families trying to fly out to say Florida for the autumn half-term break and not being able to go. If passengers and their children want to visit the United States after October 1, we strongly recommend that they obtain a machine readable passport, if they have not already done so.”
Another measure coming into effect soon will require most people applying for visas to be personally interviewed by US consular officials overseas.