His missed vacation is not an Expedia mistake

Ilya Kovalenko believes that an Expedia mistake caused Turkish Airlines to deny him boarding on his recent international flight. And now he wants a full refund from Expedia and an apology. Unfortunately, the responsibility for Kovalenko’s missed vacation might lie a little closer to home.

Kovalenko’s story is a cautionary tale for all travelers who want to explore this great big world.  It’s ultimately your responsibility to know and possess the travel documents that you need for your desired destination.

But there’s an additional lesson in this case — one that many travelers may not consider. Neglecting to check what travel documents are required for your connecting or transit countries can have a disastrous result as well.

Missing travel documents = an Expedia mistake?

“I was denied boarding,” Kovalenko lamented. “I never was informed that one needs a travel visa to Canada. As a travel agent, Expedia should inform customers at the time of ticketing of all their needed travel documents. Since I was not, I feel Expedia set me up. This problem is an Expedia mistake.”

First things first: Expedia is not a travel agent, at least not in the traditional sense. And It doesn’t claim to be a travel agent. Expedia is an online booking agent that travelers use as an alternative to a travel agent.

Professional travel agents charge their clients small booking fees because of their knowledge and expertise. A paid travel agent can be a plethora of useful information for a traveler. Expedia doesn’t charge booking fees because it isn’t a travel agent.

What’s A Canadian ETA?

Kovalenko was flying from Detroit to Istanbul via Toronto. That connection in Canada is what caused his entire problem. He was not permitted to board the flight to Toronto because he did not have a Canadian travel visa. Not everyone needs a Canadian visa, but Kovalenko, who was traveling on a non-U.S. passport, did.

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According to the Canadian government, A Canadian Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) is “simple and inexpensive.” And it should only take a few minutes to apply and to be approved — for most travelers. If you don’t have it and you need it, you won’t be allowed to board your flight to Canada.

A quick aside: No worries, U.S. citizens. Our Canadian neighbors do not require U.S. passport holders to have an ETA.

His missed vacation is not the result of an Expedia mistake

When Expedia refused to refund these flights, Kovalenko contacted our advocacy team for help. He told us that this Expedia mistake would probably end in a class action lawsuit.

“I think it is a class action mission. There are way too many people that have their plans ruined and run into considerable financial and emotional losses,” Kovalenko lamented.

Kovalenko is correct about these cases ending in financial and emotional losses. Every week, we receive pleas for help from travelers who have found themselves in this same situation. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything that we can do when a would-be passenger shows up at the airport without the required travel documents.

Every airline, cruise line, and online booking agent has a traveler’s responsibility warning written into their terms. And Expedia is no different. It is always the traveler’s responsibility to know and obtain all their necessary travel documents.

In fact, if Kovalenko had reviewed his confirmation from Expedia, he may have been able to avoid this fiasco entirely. On that Expedia confirmation is a link to VisaCentral This online tool would have alerted Kovalenko of his need for a visa to enter Canada.

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His missing travel documents are not the result of an Expedia mistake

Another handy link that travelers can use to figure out their own personalized documentation needs for their trip is the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) Timatic tool. Timatic is the program that most airlines use to determine if you have presented the correct travel documents for your itinerary. So using it before you go to the airport can prevent many of these check-in counter shocks.

Contacting Expedia

Because I thought Kovalenko should have some type of credit with the airline, I contacted Expedia.

Our executive contact explained that the company sympathized with Kovalenko’s situation. However, she went on to reiterate that it isn’t Expedia’s responsibility to know each customer’s personal needs. There are just too many variables to consider for each traveler. Even so, Expedia had tried to work with Kovalenko and the two airlines involved with his itinerary.

Our agents were able to offer him the option to change his flight, but per Turkish Airline’s policy, he would have been required to pay a change ($135) and no-show fee ($270).

Mr. Kovalenko opted not to take this option and is now pursuing a full refund. We reached out to the airline on his behalf, but their policy in this instance was to mark him as a no-show, removing value from the entire round trip ticket.

It’s unfortunate that Kovalenko had not read some of our many tales of missed vacations (The one thing you need to know before you go to the airport) and financial loss (No, you can’t fly internationally with just a library card). If he had, he might have found the $405 penalty to correct his mistake a bargain. But because he believed this problem was an Expedia mistake, he turned down this resolution. Instead, he incurred even more expenses by purchasing a new ticket on another airline.

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We can’t help passengers who are denied boarding because of missing travel documents. But we can continue to tell their stories to prevent future travelers from finding themselves in a similar circumstance.

Should service providers be responsible to determine what specific travel documents each customer needs for their itinerary?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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