Do you need a Schengen visa? You just might

Abdul Mughal and his family needed a Schengen visa when they flew from Washington, D.C., to Tajikistan recently. They didn’t get one and had to pay another $6,000 to get home.

A Schengen visa covers most of the European countries, including Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, and allows freedom of movement between those countries. Citizens of 111 countries, including Tajikistan, must obtain visas to enter the Schengen area.

Mughal’s wife had a Tajik passport.

This site has published numerous stories about travelers who didn’t obtain the correct documents for their international trip, including a guide on avoiding visa problems and advice on determining if you need a visa. Mughal’s story is another cautionary tale about what happens when you don’t take time to find out that your family needs for travel — in this case, a Schengen visa.

Who needs a Schengen visa?

The Mughals planned to travel from Washington, D.C., to Tajikistan, with stopovers in Iceland and Frankfurt, on WOW Air. But on the day of their flight, WOW denied them boarding because Mughal’s wife didn’t have a required Schengen visa. Mughal says it cost them thousands of dollars to finally get his family to Tajikistan.

While it is possible for a citizen of Tajikistan to transit the Schengen area without a visa, they must be able to do so without leaving a designated international transit area of the airport.

Now you’re asking, “What’s an airport transit visa?” It’s a special visa that allows citizens of certain countries to fly into the airport of one the Schengen area countries with the sole purpose of connecting to another flight with a destination outside of the Schengen area.

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Given this information, it seemed to Mughal that his family needed no visas for their transits through Iceland and Germany. But his wife requires a visa to fly the itinerary they had purchased. The Mughals learned that when they tried to check in for their flight in Washington.

A complicated itinerary means you need a Schengen visa

The first problem that jumped out was the Mughal family was making a connection in Iceland, a Schengen state to Frankfurt, another Schengen state.

This scenario would require his wife to have a visa to be able to catch the “domestic” flight between these two airports. Also, since the Mughals had purchased separate tickets, his flights with WOW Air had them terminating in Frankfurt. That would have created further problems in Frankfurt, since exiting the transit area to collect and recheck their luggage would have been necessary.

But of course, they didn’t get that far.

WOW, that’s not much of a fix!

Mughal says the airlines forced him to purchase new tickets to get his family to Tajikistan. He asked WOW Air to refund the cost of his original tickets, but the airline didn’t respond.

This site lists the executive contacts for WOW Air, and he could have reached out to them. Instead, he asked for our help.

Mughal says that the new tickets cost him $3,000, but he only asked us to help him recover $1,740. When he shared with us his correspondence with the airlines, requesting to at least receive a refund on the $512 taxes, he noted in his email to WOW that the new tickets cost him $6,000.

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Our advocate Dwayne Coward reviewed this case and pointed out exactly what we’ve repeatedly said on this site: it is your responsibility — not the airline’s, not the airport’s and not even your travel agent’s — to ensure that you have all the correct documentation needed for your travels.

If you fail to obtain the correct documents for your travels, we can’t help.

Mughal responded to Coward’s rejection of this case and claimed he should still receive a refund of the taxes. Coward agreed. But WOW never responded to our inquiry, so we have to let this case go.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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