South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Visa problem on American Airlines. Who should pay?

- By Christophe­r Elliott

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.

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