Can this trip be saved? Icelandair’s ESTA snafu strands 18-year-old in UK

By | August 16th, 2010

Note: I’m starting a new series called “Can this trip be saved?” where you get to vote on whether I mediate a case. Here’s the first installment.

Carrie LaMarr is steamed at Icelandair. Because of a misunderstanding over her son’s visa requirements, he was denied boarding on a flight this summer. He had to stay in Europe two extra days and pay another $905 to fly home.

LaMarr says the mix-up is Icelandair’s fault. Icelandair says it isn’t to blame.

Who’s right? I’ll let each side speak for itself and then tell you why I need your help in deciding what to do next.

Let’s begin with LaMarr:

Our 18-year-old son, Alex, arrived at check in at Glasgow airport for his flight to Seattle on July 17th with Icelandair some three hours before departure.

Alex presented his online ticket and British passport to the handling agent. Alex also had his Green Card with him, which was taped inside his passport.

The handling agent asked Alex whether he had completed the ESTA program paperwork, to which Alex replied no he had not. [ESTA is the US Visa waiver program.]

The agent told him that he would not be able to travel unless ESTA paperwork had been completed.

Alex asked whether he could complete the form and she informed him no, that such paperwork needed to be completed 72 hours before departure.

Alex told the agent that he thought that was strange as he lived in the USA and was a Permanent Resident and did not think he would have to do this.

The agent told Alex that only US citizens were not required to complete the ESTA paperwork and did not ask for any other documentation

Alex, not familiar with the new ESTA travel system since he last traveled to the UK (Aug 2008) had no choice but to believe her. His father, also present at the desk, stressed that Alex in fact lived in the USA and was returning for an important surgery on July 22nd and it was vitally important he return home to Seattle. The agent merely told Alex to phone Icelandair to see what could be done and then moved on to the next passenger.

LaMarr says the agent was mistaken, and had she bothered to read the ESTO requirements, would have seen that her son didn’t require a visa waiver, since he was a permanent resident. She complained to Icelandair, asking for a refund. Here’s the response from the agent:

The passenger was travelling on the FI436 then he was travelling on to the United States. When I was going to check the passenger in the computer asked if the passenger had completed an ESTA form online or if the passenger had a visa or any other documentation.

So I then asked the passenger if he had completed an ESTA form or had a visa. Pax Gray replied no to the visa and asked what an esta form was. I then showed him his confirmation as it said on the top of it that he had to complete and ESTA form at least 72 hours before travelling.