Dong Heon Kim asked if we could help get him a refund from ExploreTrip after he was denied boarding on his recent Air Canada flight from Seattle to South Korea. Unfortunately, Kim is just one of a steady stream of would-be travelers we have seen recently, who have shown up at the airport ready for take-off only to have their plans thwarted by a missing travel document.
Can we help? Yes, but not in the way that Kim had hoped.
Our goal here is to remind future international travelers of the importance of consulting with an official source prior to heading to the airport, to ensure that you possess all of the documents that you need for your trip.
Kim’s story began when he purchased a ticket on Air Canada through an online ticketing agency called ExploreTrip. When he showed up at the airport for his flight, he was told that because his flight stopped in Vancouver, he needed an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) to transit through Canada.
Mistake number one: This was the first time Kim had heard about this requirement.
But since this ETA can sometimes be granted at the airport, the Air Canada staff assisted Kim with the application. However, he did not receive an immediate approval and missed his flight.
Mistake number two: Kim sent an email to Air Canada 20 minutes before the scheduled take-off asking for his flight to be canceled. Because this is not an instantaneous form of communication, Kim was listed as a no-show for his flight.
When a passenger is listed as a no-show for any portion of their flight, the entire ticket is voided and the value is lost.
So when Kim contacted us, he wanted to know if he could hold the online travel agency responsible for his lost flight and force them to reimburse him. His belief was that someone at this agency should have informed him of his need for an ETA.
As we have pointed out before, passengers are responsible for making sure that they have all the required documents for travel. And, expecting an online agency with which Kim had no personal contact to inform him of his personalized travel needs was especially ill-advised.
We checked the terms of usage for ExploreTrip and as we expected, under FAQ’s we found this:
What kind of visa and documents are required for my travel? Do I need transit visa?
All international travelers need to have valid documents and visa to get entry into the other country even for certain transit countries. You are responsible to ensure that you have all necessary travel documents and visas before booking the ticket. To check the visa requirement for transit and destination country, please click on this link below to get the relevant details. We suggest you to contact the respective country embassy in [the U.S.] the usa as per your itinerary to get the accurate information for [your visa] and documents.
Under this FAQ was a link to an online tool provided by the International Air transport Association(IATA). With this tool, a traveler enters their specific travel information and instantly their required travel documents and health documents will be displayed for their prospective trip. If Kim had utilized this tool prior to his flight, he would have been alerted to his need for an ETA.
This type of language described in ExploreTrip’s FAQs can be found across the board in the travel industry. We have seen similar disclaimers with the airlines, online travel agencies and with traditional travel agencies.
The message is clear: The responsibility for knowing and obtaining the proper travel documents lies with the traveler. Kim’s case highlights the fact that you also need to check the entry requirements for any country through which your flight may connect.
It’s not just missing visas or ETAs that could put the brakes on your trip.
Rita Finger recently contacted us because her daughter was denied boarding to Switzerland on Airberlin when she attempted to check in with only three months’ validity left on her passport. The requirement for entry to Switzerland is six months beyond the dates of travel. As a result, she incurred an additional expense of $2500 (to change her flight) and the cost of an expedited passport. Her mother wants to know who will reimburse her daughter.
Unfortunately, the answer is no one. When a traveler makes a mistake such as this, they almost always bear the financial burden.
If you want to make sure that your vacation plans are not disrupted, make sure to consult the Department of State’s website long before packing your suitcase. Here, you will find an abundance of information for your international travel needs. You will also be able to find the contact information for the embassy of the country to which you plan to travel. This embassy will be the ultimate authority on the currently needed travel documents for your destination.
By the way, a consumer advocacy site also cannot be relied upon to give you advice as to what travel documents you will need. We have had several consumers post to our forums recently asking for advice about their complicated needs. We cannot give that type of advice. As we have seen time and again, the implications of having the wrong information can be disastrous. Please consult the embassy or consulate of the country to which you wish to travel.
We never like to hear about travelers missing their planned vacations and losing money in the process. But, we hope that by providing this information, we can prevent our readers from ending up in similar circumstances. Remember, doing your pre-travel research can save you a big headache down the road.