When Lauren Weichmann and her new husband took off on Frontier Airlines for their five-day honeymoon to Mexico, they never imagined that they would be returning home later that same day. Now Weichmann wants to know: Who is to blame for her honeymoon fiasco, and how can she get reimbursed?
Unfortunately, we think we know who is to blame, and she isn’t going to like our answer.
Weichmann and her husband, who is Albanian, booked their honeymoon to Cancún online through Apple Vacations. On their flight to Mexico, they dreamed of the relaxing days ahead — lazing on the beach beside the crystal blue Caribbean, iced drinks in hand.
However, when they disembarked from their plane and reached passport control, they were quickly jolted into a different reality. In a letter to our advocates, which she entitled “Trouble in Paradise,” Weichmann describes what happened next:
We went through passport control, and we gave over our documents with smiles. I gave my passport, and my husband gave his with the work authorization card/travel card. The man kept asking my husband where his visa or green card was when we were never made aware that we would need either of those. I tried to hold back my tears.
The end result was that Weichmann’s husband did not have the required visa to enter Mexico and was denied entry. He was told that he would be returning on the same flight on which he had just arrived. Weichmann was told that she could enter Mexico and wait for her husband to return. He would need to fly home, apply for and receive a visa and then fly back another day. This was not acceptable to her, and she chose to return home with him.
When a passenger is refused entry to a foreign country, it is the responsibility of the airline of origin to take back the unwanted visitor. So Weichmann’s husband was separated from her and returned to Frontier Airlines to wait for his flight home. She, however, did not qualify for this type of expedited return and was directed to go into the airport and purchase/exchange her ticket for the flight back to the United States. She explained:
Everyone was smiling and laughing either coming back from vacation or going there with their loved ones. My face was the only one stained with tears and puffy. They made me go all the way around to buy my ticket back to America, separate from my husband. I asked the man at the Frontier counter if I was going to make the flight. I only had 20 minutes to get through security and make it through the gate. He said only if I run and laughed at me.
Weichmann made it through security, and she and her husband were soon en route back to where they had started earlier in the day.
So who is responsible for this lost honeymoon?
Weichmann provided us with a link to the terms of her honeymoon package, so we first went to Apple Vacation’s Fair Trade Contract. At the top of this document it reads “When booking online, please read and accept the following terms of our Fair Trade Contract in order to continue with your purchase of an Apple Vacation.”
This contract is quite lengthy, but we reviewed the entire document and found the information that would answer Weichmann’s question of responsibility.
13. INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AND DENIAL OF ENTRY: Passengers traveling to any international destination must have a valid passport and, for non-U.S. citizens valid entry documents (See ‘Things to Know Before You Go’) Apple Vacations is not responsible for any passenger who is unable to travel as a result of their failure to have the required travel documents, or is denied entry to any country or re-entry into the U.S.
Additionally, under travel tips, this contract says: “If you are not a U.S. citizen, contact the embassy of the country to which you are traveling to determine required entry documents.”
It appears that Apple Vacations makes it quite clear that they take no responsibility if you arrive in a foreign land without the documents that you need.
Weichmann also suggested to us that Frontier Airlines might be responsible. So we investigated that possibility as well.
But this, too, proved fruitless for Weichmann.
Frontier Airlines has a disclaimer on their website that is even more direct with the traveler:
It’s your responsibility to know what additional documentation is required for entry into any foreign country to which you are flying. So, please do your homework! For travel documentation entry requirements, including visa requirements for other countries, please contact that country’s consulate for information.
Additionally, they warn in their contract of carriage that:
A passenger shall indemnify Frontier from any loss, damage, or expense suffered or incurred by Frontier by reason of the passenger’s failure to possess any required travel documents or other failure to comply with the provisions of this section, including the applicable fare if Frontier is required to transport the passenger home from a country. Frontier is not liable to a passenger for loss or expense due to the passenger’s failure to comply with this provision.
So, in short, Frontier is informing passengers that if Frontier should receive any sort of fine for transporting a passenger to a foreign country who does not possess the required entry documents, they will hold the passenger responsible for that fine.
That was the final nail in the coffin that sent this case flying right into the Case Dismissed file.
It seems that, while Frontier did check that Weichmann’s husband had a valid passport, they were as unaware as he was of his need for a visa to enter Mexico.
But, can an airline be fined for allowing a passenger to fly to another country without all the proper documents?
The answer is yes. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), globally, airlines are fined an average of $3,500 per passenger in these situation. Additionally, when a passenger arrives in a foreign country with incorrect or incomplete entry documents and is denied entry, the airline must fly the passenger home immediately.
IATA does point out; however, that a passenger’s visa status is often hard for an airline to verify.
Frontier’s policy may seem a little harsh, but if we take a quick look at the contract of carriage of some of the other major airlines, Frontier is not alone in their stance on this subject. For instance, in United Airlines’ contract of carriage under “Rule 19 Travel Documents” it is stated that “Each passenger desiring transportation across any international boundary is responsible for obtaining and presenting all necessary travel documents.” They go on to say that a passenger will be liable if United suffers a loss, damage or expense of any kind because of a passenger’s failure to produce valid travel documents.
One thing I really like about both the American Airlines and the United Airlines sites are that they link passengers to a little on-line tool provided by the IATA. Here, a passenger can input their specific travel information and click “Check Passport, Visa and health requirements” and instantly, personalized passport, visa and health requirements will be provided. This information is updated regularly and can be an quite useful to travelers, especially ones with complicated situations.
The outcome of this case did not surprise us, but it sparked the question: If this couple had used an actual travel agent would there have been a different outcome? The answer is probably “yes.” We can’t be certain, but a travel agent would have provided them with personal service. Weichmann booked their honeymoon without ever speaking to a live person. An actual travel agent, noting the Albanian passport of Weichmann’s husband, would likely have directed the couple to check his entry requirements.
I spoke to several travel agents while researching this story, and they all told me the same thing: Ultimately, it is the traveler’s responsibility to know all of the documents that they personally need for travel. A travel agent or airline cannot be expected to know the entry requirements to every country for every traveler. For this reason, most travel agents and airlines post disclaimers on their websites similar to the ones we have encountered above.
So how can you make sure that you are not denied entry to a foreign land?
A great website to visit before your trip is the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. Here you will find a plethora of information about any country you are planning to visit; along with entry requirements for a U.S. citizen. If you are not a U.S. citizen, and need specific information about your entry requirements, the links to the consular office of each country are given, as well. In Weichmann’s case, a visit to this site would have led her to the Mexican consulate, where she would have discovered that her husband was in need of a visa to travel on their honeymoon.
We certainly sympathize with Weichmann, but we cannot recoup any of her lost money. The responsibility for her husband’s inability to enter Mexico lies on their shoulders alone. This is an expensive lesson for these newlyweds to learn, but we hope that by telling their story here we can help other unaware travelers so they do not end up with “Trouble in Paradise.”