A British family were detained and then deported from Tahiti after a mix-up over France’s Omicron travel ban while on their £15,000 dream Pacific holiday.
Steve Goode, 31, and his partner Charlotte, 29, said their holiday with their six-month old daughter turned into a nightmare when they landed on December 20 and were informed they were to be deported immediately from the island in French Polynesia.
Officials told them British travellers were not welcome in French colonies under France’s travel ban announced on December 16.
But Mr Goode has said he was not informed by the airline or French authorities, despite his family being issued with travel visas and allowed to board a flight to Tahiti from Los Angeles, where they stopped off on the way from London.
Steve Goode, 31 (right), and his partner Charlotte, 29 (left), said their holiday with their six-month old daughter transformed into a nightmare when they landed in Tahiti on December 20 and were informed they were to be deported immediately from the island in French Polynesia
Speaking to the MailOnline after their ordeal, Mr Goode said he believes his family was caught up in a political row between Britain and France, with relations between the two nations deteriorating in recent months.
‘It was a complete and utter surprise when we landed,’ he said. ‘We made all reasonable steps. We got an ETIS (Visa) from the French, we got a negative PCR Covid-19 test, we got all of the necessary documents, we were approved to travel, the airline boarded us.
‘It’s the French-English situation – the French and British argument. We got stuck in the middle of this whole political (travel) ban that they’ve done,’ he said.
Mr Goode said after going through passport control, they were held in a small room for almost six hours with no air conditioning, and were allegedly refused food.
Despite having their six-month-old daughter Penelope with them, Mr Goode said there were no concessions given by the border guards that held them.
‘They were just horrendous,’ he said. ‘Awful. Especially as we’ve got a child as well, we thought there would be some form of concession.
‘We asked for food, they said no. A couple of other British nationals were with us and they asked as well – “no”. Then we asked for water and we got given this tiny cup with dirt at the bottom of it. It was tragic.’
The family had undergone a long journey to get to Tahiti – a Pacific island in French Polynesia that is one of France’s overseas territories, and 9,500 miles from London.
They flew 11 hours from London to Los Angeles on December 17, where they stayed for three days. A few days later, they then flew a further nine hours from Los Angeles to Tahiti, where they landed on December 20.
Pictured: Images taken by Mr Goode as he, his partner and baby daughter were escorted through the airport by police officers
They were meant to stay in French Polynesia until January 12, on a dream holiday that had already been postponed twice before and cost £15,000.
But upon their arrival in Tahiti, they were detained in the airport’s holding area and told that they would be deported immediately, Mr Goode said.
‘It wasn’t a case of:“We’ve detained you because you’re considered a public health risk,”‘ Mr Goode said.
‘It was this constant line that British travellers are not welcome in France. “You’re not welcome, you’re not welcome.” I don’t know whether that was the language barrier, but it was just constant. “You’re not welcome.”‘
While being held, their daughter – who has health issues – began suffering from sickness and diarrhoea after the long wait in customs.
Mr Goode said the UK Foreign Office arranged for a doctor to speak to the family, who then told the French officials that Penelope should not fly again under any circumstances.
If the officials in Tahiti had not been swayed, Mr Goode said he and his family would have had to fly back at 8pm on December 21, despite having landed on December 20 at around 11pm local time, being held for six hours and having no sleep.
Instead of being deported straight away, the family of three were taken to a hotel under police guard. Video taken by Mr Goode shows his partner and daughter in a golf-cart type police vehicle with caged windows, driving through a resort on the island.
The family had undergone a long journey to get to Tahiti. They flew 11 hours from London to Los Angeles on December 17, where they stayed for three days. A few days later, they then flew a further nine hours from Los Angeles to Tahiti, where they landed on December 20
Their luggage can be seen in the vehicle, while a police guard is shown holding onto the rear of the cart.
They were then held in a hotel quarantine by police and told they could not leave their room. If they did, Mr Goode said, they could have been jailed.
‘They took us to a quarantine hotel with the others – in a police car, with police guard – to a room. They asked us to sign a 10 page document all in French that they refused to translate into English. It was all very dictatorial,’ he told MailOnline.
‘What we were most surprised at were the conditions that we were held. We weren’t allowed to leave the room, there were police guards walking up and down the street.
‘Police were banging on the door a 1am to check we were there. You really had to keep your cool – there were some quite near-the-mark moments when I felt really angry about it,’ he recalled.
Mr Goode said there were other British nationals in the same position as them. One family, he said, had travelled from Los Angeles with an American family who had to wait outside the airport while their friends were held inside.
‘All their family were crying outside because they were so upset, they didn’t want to stay,’ he said.
There were also two Finnish nationals, Mr Goode said. The pair had flown through London on their way to Los Angeles, and then on to Tahiti. As a result of their London stop-over, they were also held.
But the Finnish nationals were treated better by the officials than the British, according to Mr Goode.
‘There was a marked difference in the way we were treated to the people from Finland. It felt that they were just so anti-us. It was 100 percent to do with the fact that we were Brits,’ he said.
Mr Goode said after going through passport control, they were held in a small room for almost six hours with no air conditioning, and were allegedly refused food. Despite having their six-month-old daughter Penelope with them, Mr Goode said there were no concessions given by the border guards that held them
‘If there were other nationals there that had travelled through the UK and there were no British nationals, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had juts said to them – do 10 days [in quarantine] and then stay.’
However, that was not an option afforded to Mr Goode’s family. He said while Tahitian officials offered to let them stay on hotel grounds in isolation for 10 days, this offer was rescinded.
The order, he said, came from Paris and France’s high commissioner, who told officials in Tahiti that they must be deported right away.
‘We spoke to a couple of nice immigration officers – and they said, being honest with you, it’s because Britain and France’s relationship is not good,’ Mr Goode said. ‘The high commissioner kept saying – no – send them home.’
The family’s ordeal came after Emmanuel Macron’s government banned Britons from travelling to France, a measure taken to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
But Mr Goode said he was assured by the airline – Air Tahiti – that the trip could still go ahead.
In a press release dated December 15, Tahiti released a statement saying in-line with France’s measure, Britons would not be permitted to enter the island without a compelling reason, ruling out tourism.
The press release was not prominently placed on French travel guidance, requiring users to follow a number of links to find the correct guidance.
An apparently outdated guidance document, cited by Mr Goode, which said travellers from the United Kingdom were permitted, was also still available online.
Furthermore, in a screen-recording taken on Mr Goode’s mobile phone of the same page on December 20 after he had landed in Tahiti, the press release can not be seen. This suggests, Mr Goode said, that the press release could have been added later and back-dated.
‘They pre-dated it, and it was never there,’ he said. ‘And we even showed immigration and we said to them: “we appreciate that you don’t want us here, but we would never have come here.”
Pictured left: A police van shown in an image taken by Mr Goode that was used to escort them on the island. Right: A police officer escorts Mr Goode and his family in Tahiti
‘The fact that the airline boarded us, US border control let us go, the hotel were there waiting for us, that gives you an indication that it wasn’t just us. Everybody was surprised by this sudden rule.’
Mr Goode hit out at the airline, saying they should never have let them fly to Tahiti after the rules were updated. Instead, he said, they boarded the family despite them being British.
‘They boarded us, that’s why I know that we followed the rules. As an airline, they have a duty to ensure passengers have the correct paperwork and are able to travel.
‘The next day – the same thing happened. More people arrived. It was a couple with two young children from the UK. They arrived, and they weren’t even allowed to leave the airport – they weren’t even allowed to brush their teeth or go and wash,’ he said.
Mr Goode told MailOnline that he has been in contact with the airline after the ordeal, and after they initially refused to pay the bill for the quarantine hotel.
The hotel happened to be the same hotel Mr Goode had booked for his family, and as they were leaving he was lumped with a bill for over £5,000 for the three-day quarantine stay – despite not being allowed to leave the room.
Furious, he refused to pay. ‘Eventually after about 45 minutes the police had phoned the airline and told the airline to pay the hotel bill,’ he said.
On the response he’s received from Air Tahiti about why they were allowed to fly, Mr Goode said: ‘They’ve given me a preliminary response saying that it’s not down to them to approve passengers for flights,’ adding that the airline said it was his responsibility to know the rules.
‘I’m going to fight to get my money back from them. I’m confident the travel insurance will help, but failing that, we will take a lawsuit out against Air Tahiti because they have a responsibility over people in their care,’ he said.
But in particular, Mr Goode criticised the border officials in Tahiti.
While being held at the airport, he said not only were they refused food, but they were told to sign documentation that officials refused to offer in English.
He asked if he could have some time with the document to translate it using his phone, but he was refused.
‘They said we had two choices –either we signed the document, or – and they showed us the inside of the holding cells inside the immigration facility. “Or you’re going in here,”’ he claims he was told.
Taking to Twitter on Friday – on Christmas Eve (pictured) – Mr Goode said that the family had arrived safely back in the United States after being turned around
‘Considering that France is a European Country and an apparent upholder of democracy, it really was a questionable human rights incident.’
Taking to Twitter on Friday – on Christmas Eve – Mr Goode said that the family had arrived safely back in the United States after being turned around.
‘We are safely back in the US and settling down for Christmas,’ he said, sharing the story of his family’s nightmare in Tahiti.
‘We will not tolerate being treated in this manner as human beings and hope [our] story kicks the French Authorities up the back side in the hope no other families are treated in the same way.’
Mr Goode told the MailOnline that his family are currently in the United States deciding whether they can fly on to somewhere else to continue their holiday, or return home to the UK.
The Foreign Office confirmed to The Sun Online that they were ‘assisting a British family in French Polynesia and are in contact with the Polynesian authorities.’
According to the statement put out on December 15 by Tahitian authorities, from ‘December 17, 2021 at noon (Tahiti time), a compelling reason is required for travel between the United Kingdom and France (including overseas territories) regardless of the traveler’s vaccination status.
Pictured: A screenshot of a breaking news statement put out by Tahitian authorities announcing that French Polynesia would not allow Brits into the territory without a compelling reason. However, Mr Goode has said the statement was not on the page when he and his family landed in Tahiti on December 20, and has suggested it could have been back-dated
‘The measures applied to adults extend under the same conditions to accompanying minors. These reasons do not allow travel for tourist or professional reasons.
‘All visitors from the United Kingdom who have planned a trip to Tahiti And Her Islands as of today are asked to postpone their trip to a later date.’
The UK government has warned holidaymakers that Covid travel restrictions in other countries can change at short notice.
Meanwhile, Anglo-French relations have deteriorated over a number of sticking points, including the on-going row over fishing licenses, and France’s decision to ban British travellers from entry despite reporting similar, if not higher cases of Covid-19.
The two countries have also clashed over migrants crossing the English channel, post-Brexit trade agreements and submarine sales to Australia.
Air Tahiti has been approached for comment by MailOnline.