South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Visa problem on American Airlines. Who should pay?
Q: Iwas traveling with a friend to a wedding in Asia in 2018 anddecided to make a stopover inBeijing after learning about the new144-hour visa-free policy. I contacted the Chinese consulate in Chicago, and it confirmed the rule and said thatwe could travel to Beijing with one airline andhave the onwardticket with another one as long as itwas to a location outside of China.
Onthe day of our trip, I showed upat the airport, andAmerican Airlines didnot allowmeto board the plane. Nobodyat the Minneapolis airport knewof any visa-free policy for Beijing or anywhere inChina.
I endeduphaving tobuyone-way tickets to Los Angeles on Delta and then one-way tickets to Beijing onAir China. Air China allowedme toboard without anyproblems. Iwas able to visit Beijingwithout anydifficulties andnoprevious visa.
WhenI returned to theU.S., I contacted American to request reimbursement for my tickets, which cost $4,007. Unfortunately, American would not even address our request. It just sent generic responses that were infuriating. Ihavenot givenup. Airlines have an obligation to beup-todate onvisa requirements. Idon’twant other people to fall victim toAmerican Airlines’ ignorance. Canyouhelp?— Rodolfo Soca, Washington, D.C.
A: I’m sorry you had to rebook your flights to China and that you had towait almost two years to get a resolution on this case. But I promisewe’ll have a resolution by the end of this story.
The final authority for visa rules is Timatic, a visa database published by the International AirTransport Association (www. iatatravelcentre.com/ passport-visa-health-travel-document-requirements.htm). It appears, however, thatAmerican had its own internal policies that conflicted with the visa rules. This happens every nowand then. I recall a case where American denied a passen
ger boarding because she didn’t have enough time left before her passport expired. Shewas legal to enter the country, but American stillwouldn’t let her board.
If you ever have a question about the validity of your visa, it’s important to check Timatic and find out howthe airlinewill interpret the Timatic information. American happens to take amore conservative approach when it comes to visa and passport rules. I actually support that— better to be safe than sorry — but the key is communicating those policies to your passengers. American didn’t do that.
You did a great job of
contacting American by email and arguing your case. It looks as if the airlinewasn’t swayed by your arguments. You could also have reached out to an executive atAmerican Airlines. I publish their names, numbers and email addresses onmy consumer advocacy site atwww. elliott.org/company-contacts/american-airlines/.
I contacted American on your behalf. It reimbursed you for yournewtickets.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/ help or chris@ elliott.org.