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Why am I asked to show my boarding card when shopping at the airport?

Travel Q&A: Conor Pope answers a query from a cross reader frustrated by multiple requests at Dublin Airport recently

We heard from a very cross reader called John last week. He was enraged by multiple requests for his boarding card as he shopped at Dublin Airport.

“I am travelling to Italy. I wished to purchase some items in the retail area, sweets and such. As I am travelling within the EU, duty-free does not apply, and therefore, I am not obliged to provide proof of destination,” he says. “Nevertheless at every shop, I was explicitly told the shop would not allow me to make purchases without presenting my boarding pass. This occurred in every shop except WH Smiths, where the assistant at self-checkout used her code to bypass the demand.”

John says that when a manager was called at one shop – at his request – “it turns out that I don’t have to present my boarding card, as I am not purchasing duty-free products, and the tills can in fact complete the purchase. Wonder of wonders.”

He expresses concern that data is collected that could be of value to retailers, and raises concerns over potential breaches of GDPR legislation.


He proposes a simple solution would be “notices at tills reminding passengers – and staff! – that boarding passes or proof of destination is required for duty-free purchases only. Any customer providing the information then does so freely.”

This is a story we have covered in the pages of The Irish Times before over many years.

John is right to say that consumers do not have to show boarding passes when making purchases, apart from when buying duty-free products such as tobacco and alcohol.

Despite that, passengers are still routinely asked for boarding cards, and if they refuse, they can be asked to supply an end destination. If they refuse to provide this, the sale can still be processed as long as the products are not in the duty-free category.

The practice is not unique to Irish airports, and several years ago it emerged that in the UK many retailers operating in international airports were maximising their profits by scanning boarding passes and using the information to claim VAT back from passengers who travelled outside of the EU – back in pre-Brexit days – while refusing to pass rebates back to customers.

Under EU law, retailers can claim back VAT on sales to those leaving the EU, but they have to process boarding cards in order to claim it.

This issue has been highlighted in the past by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, which has said that consumers should – at the very least – be told why boarding cards are requested in Irish airports, as the information would allow consumers to make more informed decisions.

We do admire John’s determination not so show his boarding pass. It is a question that is routinely asked of this column, and while we know that it is not a legal requirement, more often than not we simply show our boarding pass so we can go about our day without a big row erupting.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast