Passport problems, a missed cruise and an unsolvable case

PutPut
By | March 5th, 2016

I can’t help Eve Weinbaum. Our forum advocates can’t help her. Her cruise line won’t help her.

But you need to know what happened to her because you don’t want to be the next Eve Weinbaum.

Yes, you. Probably because you don’t think it could happen to you. And that’s a problem.

Weinbaum and her family booked a five-day tour of the Galapagos Islands on a Nemo catamaran. Looks like fun, doesn’t it? Total cost: $7,250, not including a $115 charge for using a credit card. (I’ll save my rant about that fee for another day.)

They booked the cruise three months in advance through a travel agent, and communicated with the agent extensively, including sharing their passport information and expiration dates.

“They said we were all set to travel,” she says.

They were not.

“When we arrived at the Medellin, Colombia airport to fly to the Galapagos, we were told that we could not fly because our passports were only valid for four months,” she says, “Not the required six months.”

Indeed, the six-month requirement is prominently mentioned on the State Department’s Ecuador page. There’s no missing it.

“The people who booked our tour had copies of our passports, including expiration dates, for three months and never told us we were not able to go on this trip,” says Weinbaum. “When I contacted them, they said they knew this rule but had not told us, which we consider fraud. The consulate told us the company never should have accepted our money, knowing that our passports were not valid for this particular trip. Now the travel agent is refusing to give us any refund at all.”

Related story:   Delta loses my baggage on my way to a cruise

The terms she agreed to seem pretty clear:

11) Latintour Cia Ltda will not be responsible for refunds under the following circumstances:

Changes to itinerary before or after departure.
Adverse weather conditions.
Mechanical issues affecting any form of transport on the trip.
Late arrival or NO-SHOW of the guest.
If the guest decides to leave the tour early or miss any activities / meals / accommodations during the tour.
The guest is travelling without the necessary documentation to be abroad including passport, visas, or immigration papers.
g. Different prices paid by passengers aboard including special offers.
h. Any other incidents that occur on your tour that beyond Latintour Cia Ltda control.

But as I reviewed her case, I thought I might have overlooked something. We have resident cruise experts and travel agents in our help forum. So I thought it might be worth referring the case to them.

You have to read the thread. It turns out the Weinbaums had booked their airfare separately through United Airlines and that the carrier offered them a full refund. At the time she contacted me, the family’s trip had terminated in Colombia. Talk about drama!

Here’s the postscript:

We did not resolve anything. Your readers were sympathetic but suggested that I contact the company and try to work something out with them.

I did that, and I failed. I also tried to resolve it through the credit card company (I paid most of the cost with a credit card — $5,800 out of $7,500).



  • Alan Gore

    This one is definitely the fault of the travel agent, who if involved is primarily responsible for checking Timatic and letting the passenger know the requirements. In this case, Latintour seems to share some responsibility for having all the passenger information and then not notifying the passenger about an elementary requirement. It’s not as though these passengers were foreign residents with special passports.

  • Steve Rabin

    Yeah, but at the same time it is still the passenger’s responsibility to insure they have the right travel documents. Personal responsibility has to count for something.

  • Helene Apper

    As a travel agent, I can tell you one thing I emphasize with my clients when they are leaving the United States is that they have to have six months left on the passport from the date they leave, and if they don’t, they need to renew before they leave. This is pretty universal. Their travel agent should have caught it. And in all actuality, the tour company should have caught it. However, it is the responsibility of the traveler to make sure their documents are in order.

  • Carchar

    Although I am super vigilant about travel rules, every tour company that I have ever used for a trip has advised me on the details of what I need to go. That certainly was true of the company I used for my trips to Ecuador. Latintour should have done the same, but, sadly, it ended up being an expensive lesson to learn. Would insurance have covered this, I wonder?

  • Carchar

    Glad to see ACE has been back in the box!

  • Tom McShane

    I agree, the travel company had personal responsibility to do every thing it could to assist the traveller. They get paid for that sort of thing

  • Alan Gore

    No, navigating the complexity of travel rules is WHY WE HIRE TRAVEL AGENTS in the first place! Too many of the cases we see here are travelers who, being used to booking vanilla round trips online by themselves, try to set up overly complex trips without the aid of a TA. If you are setting a cruise to the Galapagos, this would be ‘brain surgery self taught’.

    But this passenger did it right, and it was the agent’s responsibility to use that database – which passengers can’t access by themselves anyway – to get the paperwork right.

  • joycexyz

    Ultimately the responsibility is with the traveler. Ever heard of “trust, but verity”?

  • Randy Culpepper

    If I’m reading this properly, only the cruise was booked through the travel agent–not the flight. This occurred outside the scope of the travel agent’s responsibilities.

  • judyserienagy

    You book through a travel agent for their expertise. I’m the first one to scream about personal responsibility when it comes to travel documentation, but a traveller relies on his agent to be on top of all the details. Some travel providers give you all the information you could possibly want, but you rely on your agent to make sure it’s complete. I hope she is able to file a lawsuit against this incompetnt agency.

  • Tom McShane

    If you have to do everything yourself, why would you need an agent. If comes to pass that no one needs an agent, wouldn’t that put a lot of folks out of work?

  • Chris_In_NC

    I do not know of any insurance company that would have covered this situation.

  • joycexyz

    I’m definitely in favor of using in-person travel agents. Haven’t we read plenty of sad tales from folks who get in trouble booking complicated travel arrangements themselves? My point is that you should check out for yourself the State Department site for requirements for foreign travel. Anyone can make a mistake.

  • Chris_In_NC

    This is a very unfortunate situation.

    After reading this article and the thread, I would never use this specific travel agent. I am in agreement with @al@agore:disqus and @rma@rmarkson121:disqus that the travel agent did not fulfill its due diligence in advising the LW that her passports would not permit entry into Ecuador, especially since they had copies of the passport. Alan sums it up nicely by saying this is why we use travel agents in the first place.

    However, in the thread, the LW writes “The agency usually doesn’t let people book their own flights, but they let us because there were five of us and the miles was such a good deal.” I suspect this is where things started going awry. If the TA didn’t book the flight tickets, then effectively the client was taking responsibility for arriving in Ecuador, and the agency may have dropped the ball.

    Then there’s the question of the flights. The question is never answered in the thread. How was the flight booked? Was the UA and Copa segments linked? If it was linked, this could have been caught before departure from the US, and if there was at least a 1-2 day layover in Medellin, the trip may have been salvaged.

    Ultimately, a good travel agent would always be looking out for their clients. A travel good agent should have reviewed the LW’s itinerary, and counseled the client on passport requirements. Not sure the TA would be on the hook legally for the missed cruise, but they sure didn’t do a good job, IMHO.

  • Éamon deValera

    If they relied upon the expert advice of the agent then the agent is at fault and should reimburse them. If the agent doesn’t reimburse them they should sue as the agent’s expertise is what induced them to purchase the cruise. Relying on expert advice, even with some strange disclaimer, puts a much greater burden on the seller than simply a transactional exchange.

    If this travel agent is out of the US, well then the expert advice bit may not be applicable and they’re more or less SOL.

    If they travel agent is in the US I would absolutely have my attorney write them a letter, if they have E&O insurance it should be a quick resolution. If the agent is in a state that requires bonding and registration or licensure for travel agents it should be a quick resolution. If neither is the case it may require litigation. Your attorney can advice.

    If you pay an expert for something you deserve the value of the expert’s advice. If the expert fails to properly advise you then it is their fault and they are liable for their error and your money damages.

    See this article from the American Bar Association
    http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2013/may_june/travel_agents_their_role_and_liability.html

    It is unfortunate that you might have to sue your travel agent, but it is unfortunate that they failed to do their required due diligence. If they weren’t going to verify that the passports were valid for the trip they should not have requested copies. It is as if your doctor took an x-ray but didn’t bother to read it and you had an untreated broken arm.

    I’d absolutely sue over seven grand.

  • Éamon deValera

    If the travel agent requests copies or data from them and doesn’t vet the data properly the error can be the agent’s fault. We pay experts to know things we don’t. A travel agent should know this, that is why we pay them. They have a duty that they failed in this instance. I don’t see a scenario where the traveler wouldn’t prevail in a civil action with the facts give to us above.

  • Éamon deValera

    Yet court cases say otherwise. Yes, the traveler should check, but if the traveler provides the agent with the information and the agent fails to check it is the agent’s fault. That is why Travel Agent errors and omissions insurance exists.

    If travel agents want to be thought of as professionals then they assume professional liability just like every other profession.

  • Éamon deValera

    No, no it is not. If you pay a lawyer you expect good advice. If you pay a CPA you expect good advice. If you pay a mechanic you expect a proper repair. If you pay – even indirectly- a travel agent they have a duty to not get it wrong.

  • cscasi

    I agree, but I guess one at the tour company could say, I thought that the Weinbaums would get their passports renewed before they departed to go on our cruise. Sorry excuse to be sure, but where does it state in the company’s literature that it will be responsible to ensure the customer has everything in order?
    Still, I agree that someone there should have informed the Weinbaums that their passports did not meet the validity requirement to enter Ecuador. That would have been good customer service and certainly have helped the Weinbaums who had invested so much money for this trip.

  • cscasi

    But, the company’s terms state under: 11) Latintour Cia Ltda will not be responsible for refunds under the following circumstances:
    and one of those circumstances is: “The guest is travelling without the necessary documentation to be abroad including passport, visas, or immigration papers.” That lets the company off the responsibility hook for this particular problem. Sad, but true.

  • cscasi

    All one has to do is go on line and Google, “What is the validity of my U.S.A. passport required to be to enter Ecuador?” Guess what, it comes up with numerous sites to click on for information. I just Googled that question and here are what the first two that popped up state:
    Ecuador – US Department of State
    https://travel.state.gov/…/passports/…/ecuador….
    Cached
    Bureau of Consular Affairs
    Loading…Oct 1, 2015 – U.S. Passports & International Travel · Get information and …. PASSPORT VALIDITY: 6 months … In addition, Ecuadorian authorities might require you to show a certificate of yellow fever vaccination when entering or leaving the Amazon Basin area, or when continuing travel to other areas of South America.
    What Is Required to Travel to Ecuador? | USA Today
    traveltips.usatoday.com › … › Travel Requirements
    Cached
    SimilarU.S. citizens only need a passport and a return ticket to travel to Ecuador. … U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Ecuador, which simplifies entry into the country; … passport valid for at least six months past the planned date of departure is required. … Due to the widespread theft of American passports in Ecuador, the U.S. …
    So, the answer is, if you are going to travel, find out what the passport requirements are. It’s not hard at all.

  • Tom McShane

    I suspect you are right. However if they did not make passport requirement very clear to the traveller, then they have failed, in my opinion to give quality service. If I were a potential customer, I’d not be inclined to give this particular company my custom.

  • FQTVLR

    She never says she used a travel agent. She says she booked directly with Latin Tours in Quito. From reading the forum thread they appear to be the tour operator rather than an agent. Maybe I am reading it wrong, but she never says she used a travel agent.

  • Craig Clark

    As a travel agent myself, it seems pretty obvious that the agent didn’t fulfill his/her fiduciary responsibility to the client. The agent should have advised the client of visa requirements, health advisories from CDC, passport requirements, minimum airline connection times, and travel insurance options. And this is just a minimum.

  • cscasi

    Apparently all this tour company does is do travel within Ecuador. It appears they do not arrange anything outside its own country; according ot the information I can see on its web pages.

  • Retired

    I don’t disagree with you; however, it would be prudent to err on the side of caution and double, if not triple, check everything. Going through a TA, in my view, is convenient or, as in most group tours, a necessity. But I do not leave everything up to a TA – my reservation will not be the only one the TA would be working on, and something can be overlooked – a very human error, hence my paranoia. To echo joycexyz, “trust, but verify”.

  • jim6555

    This case is a good example of why legitimate travel agents carry errors and omissions insurance. I would go to small claims court and file an action against the travel agent and the tour provider. Chances are that the sued parties or their insurance companies would soon be contacting her to settle the case.

  • Éamon deValera

    Indeed those are key elements we don’t know. If the agent was responsible for bookings that involved those passports then … well the agent was responsible.

    I would think an agent could book tickets using miles. When things are ‘parted out’ as they were complications do arise. I don’t buy the oil for my oil change at the quick lube and give them the jugs, why purchase half a trip with an agent and half on your own?

  • Éamon deValera

    I don’t think that is the travel agent, but the vendor or tour operator.

    Disclaimers aren’t magic. Just because it says it doesn’t mean it is true. Contracts of adhesion when interpreted in court are viewed more favorably toward the person who can’t change the contract. The words are still there, but how enforceable they are is up to the judgment of the court.

  • Éamon deValera

    Google is absolutely not authoritative. Relying on an answer found on google is worse than not having an answer at all.

    The US State department might be right. USA Today might be right, but you must go to an authoritative original source. The government of Ecuador can be relied upon.

    Or someone you pay to do this for you, like a travel agent. They assume the risk if they are wrong.

  • Éamon deValera

    The State Department website for foreign travel requirements can, and occasionally is, wrong about other countries entry requirements.

    If you wanted to come to the US from Poland would you ask the Polish government what you needed to do or the US government? The government of the country being visited should be consulted as they will be the most accurate. They probably won’t have their servers in someone’s bathroom :)

  • cscasi

    They both say the same thing, so what’s the difference? Getting a correct answer is and they are all correct!

  • cscasi

    When in doubt, read the tour company’s terms. It clearly states it will not be responsible. Problem with that? Go somewhere else.

  • cscasi

    And the State Department of our government cannot? I have used it for all my travels over the years and never ran into an issue with a passport or visa.

  • cscasi

    Back in the earlier thread, Weinbaum stated, “Thanks so much everyone. Now we know the passport rules but it’s too late! Latin Tours asked for our passports and other details upfront when we paid our deposit, so we assumed they were taking care of things. We’ve been traveling a lot in South America (Colombia, Panama, Argentina) and no one enforced the six-month rule until now.”
    Mistake one – “we assumed they were taking care of things”. Mistake two: “We’ve been traveling a lot in South America (Columbia, Panama, Argentina) and no one enforced the six month rule until now”.
    Columbia only states you U.S.A. passport must be valid at entry – doesn’t state for how long it needs to be valid. For Panama, the State Department Passport section states passport must be valid for three months past date of entry. For Argentina, the requirement is that the passport must be valid at time of entry. No wonder the Weinbaums had no problems with their previous travel to those three countries.
    “No one enforced the six-month rule until now”. That’s because the Weinbaums’ passports were checked before they could fly from Columbia to Ecuador and their passports were expiring in four months, not the six required to fly to the Galapogas, Ecuador. The airline flying them from Columbia to there would probably be fined for letting them fly when their passports were not in order. Hence the problem.
    One cannot “assume” because they have been flying recently in South America that all South American countries have the same passport and other requirements to visit.
    IMHO, I think one lesson learned here is, if you are going to be traveling outside the USA on with a USA passport, if it will have less than six months validity left when you go to visit a foreign country, it is more than a good idea to renew it early and have peace of mind. Yes, you may lose up to six months of validity on your old passport and renewing passports keep getting more expensive, but running into a problem like this one makes paying for a new passport or passports seem like a really good deal.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Whaaat? Read the terms?! With apologies to Gold hat, the Mexican bandit in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “We don’t need to read no stinkin’ terms! :-)

  • John McDonald

    it’s your responsibility to check if your passports are valid for country your country to, not someone elses. Take some responsibility.

  • Lee

    I’m not sure how any of this sort of legal challenge would hold up given the OP, as I understand it, signed the document confirming that the travel agent was not responsible for the traveler’s documents.

    There is a reason to take the few minutes to carefully pursue a legal contract before signing it. All the travel agent has to do is present that document and this case is dismissed.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, this is a tour operator, NOT a travel agency, and when you book with a tour operator, documentation is your responsibility

  • Lindabator

    NOT a travel agency, actually, but a tour operator. They merely sell a product, and do not assume responsibility of informing you what is needed (why they leave the information on their site only)

  • Lindabator

    Problem here is they are NOT a travel agency, but a tour operator. So they are not responsible for such items at all. They SHOULD have given them a heads up, but may have just assumed they would be renewing before that time.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, no they don’t. These guys are NOT a travel agency, but a tour operator. This would have been the same if they booked with Royal Caribbean directly. RCL would just point to the information on their webpages, and are not responsible for your not having proper documentation.

  • Lindabator

    I would guess they only wanted to ensure the names matched the ID. Since they are NOT a travel agency, but a tour operator, in this case the client WAS making all the arrangements themselves. They booked directly with the ship owner in this case.

  • Lindabator

    You are CORRECT – they booked direct with the vendor here, and all liability in these cases lies with the passenger.

  • Lindabator

    THEY ARE NOT TRAVEL AGENTS – they are a tour operator, so the client booked directly, same as booking a Carnival cruise with Carnival. They clearly state they own 3 ships to the Galapagos. Travel agents assume liability, while booking directly with a tour operator means YOU are assuming liability (clearly stated on their site that proper documentation is your responsibility). They could have been nice and given them a head’s up, but…

  • Lindabator

    Since they did NOT hire a TA (booked directly with the tour operator), it IS their responsibility

  • Lindabator

    But these were NOT travel agents, so not a requirement. When you book with the tour operator directly, you are your OWN travel agent.

  • Lindabator

    But ONLY if they are travel agents, which this company is NOT. They are a tour operator, and are only offering one product. You book directly with them, it becomes YOUR responsibility.

  • Lindabator

    No – she went to the tour operator directly to book – so by eliminating a travel agent, she became her own — lesson learned.

  • Lindabator

    too bad she DIDN’T use one – she booked this with the operator, NOT an agent, so by booking direct, she became her OWN agent.

  • Lindabator

    they mistakenly assumed the tour operator WAS a travel agent, and this was not the case. She booked each segment separately, and so became her own agent.

  • Lindabator

    No, you are correct

  • The Original Joe S

    Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator!
    Do you REALLY think that the typical travel customer knows the difference? YOU are standing on a technicality, and, as usual, go against the customer.
    Shouldn’t have to be a lesson learned. The Tour Operator should be responsible, and, were I on the jury, WOULD BE HELD LIABLE!

  • The Original Joe S

    Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour
    Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator! Tour Operator!
    Do you
    REALLY think that the typical travel customer knows the difference? YOU
    are standing on a technicality, and, as usual, go against the customer.

    Shouldn’t have to be a lesson learned. The Tour Operator should be responsible, and, were I on the jury, WOULD BE HELD LIABLE!

  • The Original Joe S

    And the John Q Public schnook is supposed to know all this? ONLY the people in the BUSINESS, many of whom post here, know the difference. It’s a technicality, and I’d hammer the guilty party in a jury room. Jury nullification, and here’s your reward for being lazy, incompetent, useless, etc.

  • The Original Joe S

    and the regular person knows this difference, right? I’d hold the tour operator liable in a jury room for the same reason a dog scratches his ear – because I can!

  • The Original Joe S

    But I’d still hold the tour operator liable. Technicalities not withstanding.

  • The Original Joe S

    Should make no difference. The tour operator knows the requirements, and didn’t advise the person. Liable.

  • Mel65

    I was wondering about that. If they just went to the Latin Tours website and signed up for a Galapagos Island tour, that’s not really using a TA in my mind. It’s no different than me making any other type of reservation online I’d think…. it does suck though that somewhere along the line (making the airline reservations, for example) that the too short passport validiity issue didn’t come up. That’s a really expensive and sad lesson to learn. Sounds like they did get their airfare back, just not the cruies fees, right?

  • Mel65

    Yep. Yep. Yep. When we cruised, even though we booked it all thru Princess, I obsessively checked to make sure every single i was dotted and T crossed. Same when we went to Europe, since I knew we’d be going to multiple countries. We used a TA to keep it all cohesive for us, but I cannot imagine just “assuming” that things are going to have been taken care of by someone else when I’m leaving the country!

  • I do think the average person knows the difference between a tour operator and a travel agent. If I buy a plane ticket to London, England, and then book a one-day sightseeing tour on a double-decker bus, I don’t then expect the bus company to review the details of my passport validity. If I buy a plane ticket to Peru, and then book a two-night homestay on Amantani Island, I don’t then expect the homestay organizer to check my passport validity. Why would this case be any different? Someone booked a plane ticket, then they booked a tour. Who else should check passports? Hotels, when you book a room? Restaurants, when they accept reservations? Town car services, when you book an airport pick-up?

  • Éamon deValera

    The narrative says travel agent. I believe that they had a US travel agent book with the foreign tour operator. If that isn’t the case you’re spot on.

  • Éamon deValera

    I’d have to disagree with you. The expert opinion claim can, and has overridden disclaimers and other waivers. Why would you go to a professional who gives you a form saying don’t rely on anything we say or do – it is all up to you.

  • Éamon deValera

    If you are going to order a pizza from Sal’s pizza do you look at Sal’s site or the menu.com site that aggregates menus but doesn’t own Sal’s.

    While the State Department might be right, heck they most probably are right. The country that makes the entry requirements will always be right.

  • Neither did the company in question here. It says, ” It turns out the Weinbaums had booked their airfare separately through United Airlines…”