Passport mix-up leads to a missed tour

When Doris Lemonovich booked a vacation package for two to Costa Rica through Gate 1 Travel, she thought the passport requirements were clear: All she needed was a passport that wouldn’t expire for the next month, according to the State Department.

She though wrong.

When she arrived in San Jose, the customs agents told her she couldn’t stay in the country.

They said my passport wasn’t good enough, even though it expires January 12, 2012.

Immigration immediately put my friend and I back on a JetBlue flight without boarding passes. We were back home the same day.

Lemonovich lost a $1,284 package that included flights, hotels, and a rental car. Now what?

Let’s have a look at Costa Rica’s passport requirements. When she checked the State Department website, it offered the following rule: “For entry into Costa Rica, you must present a valid passport that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.”

Related: In today’s edition of The smarter consumer, discover the three layers of scam — and how to avoid ’em.

However, when I checked the State Department site, the notification had changed. It now said, “For entry into Costa Rica, you must present a valid passport that will not expire for at least three months after arrival and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.”

Lemonovich says some immigration authorities in San Jose told her it was three months — and she was six days short of that. But she couldn’t get a consistent answer.

Some people in immigration said there had to be six months before the passport expires.

One immigration man even said that if I had gone to his window, he would have let me through! I asked to speak to the American Embassy or another American and they said no.

OK, so as far as I can tell, you have the State Department changing its published requirements and Costa Rican authorities whose rules are inconsistent — or at least inconsistently applied.

What about the tour operator? And how about JetBlue, which allowed these two to board their flight?

JetBlue says it’s not their fault, even though I had to enter my passport expiration date online before I could print a boarding pass. Gate 1 had my passport information since April, but they say it’s not their fault either.

On one hand, it’s easy to see both JetBlue and Gate 1 Travel as victims, just like Lemonovich. The rules were difficult to pin down, and why should they compensate a customer for something that isn’t their fault, and that not even the State Department can nail down?

But on the flip side, you would think that a tour operator and and airline that operate in Costa Rica would be aware of these problems, and would issue a special advisory to customers to make sure their passports have at least a year before they expire.

After some more back-and-forth between her airline and tour operator, she received a $150 airline credit and a $290 refund from Gate 1 Travel.

“I suppose something is better than nothing,” she says.

(Photo: Dr. Who/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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