TORONTO - WestJet is advising Canadians planning a holiday in Mexico to make sure their passports are in "perfect" condition.

The Calgary-based airline says Mexican customs and immigration officials could deny entry to anyone arriving with a damaged passport. Rips, tears, missing corners or water damage to the cover or inside pages are all no-noes.

Mexico "definitely takes the most stringent approach" concerning passport damage of any country the airline flies to, including the United States and Caribbean destinations, said Robert Palmer, WestJet's manager of public relations.

He said "a handful" of the airline's customers have been turned away so far this winter season -- either prevented in Canada from boarding a flight to Mexico or denied entry on arrival -- because of the state of their passports.

One B.C. man with a water-damaged passport was stopped from boarding a Mexico-bound flight by a WestJet ticket agent at Kelowna International Airport earlier this month. He had stored it in a shaving kit where it got wet.

If Mexico denies someone entry, the airline bringing the person in is responsible for getting him out immediately, said Palmer. That could mean having to pay to put him on another airline's flight.

"We need to screen passports at the point of departure" to avoid such a scenario, he said. "We're really between a rock and hard place on this."

Mexico adopted its tougher approach over the past year, Palmer said.

However, the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa denied that there has been any change in the passport policy of the country's customs and immigration officials.

"Passports must be in a generally good condition -- normal use is no problem," Milko Rivera Hope, responsible for economic and tourism affairs at the embassy, said in an email.

But Rivera Hope added that "any alterations or major damage to the passport will definitely be a problem for any passenger who wants to travel anywhere in the world. Not only to Mexico."

Passport Canada recommends that individuals with a damaged passport apply for a new one, regardless of their destination.

"Travellers whose passport is damaged in any way could face significant delays or be denied entry at border crossings, or be denied boarding on flights," Passport Canada says on its website.

Palmer's advice is to keep your passport in a protective sleeve. Don't store it in a kitchen cupboard where something could spill on it. And don't carry it around as all-purpose ID.

"I know young people who use their passport for identification when they go to a bar. ... You're just increasing your risk if you're hauling your passport around like it's another card in your wallet."