Having a complicated citizenship caused an expensive problem for this traveler

Leon Razzon is convinced that his daughter, Lora, should have been permitted to fly from Raleigh-Durham to Istanbul with only a U.S. Passport, which was about to expire, and a Turkish citizen card. American Airlines denies her boarding — and now he wants compensation.

Question: My daughter, who has dual citizenship, was denied boarding on American Airlines for her return flight to Istanbul via London. The reason American gave was that there was less than 60 days’ validity left on her passport. Lora presented the agent with her Turkish birth certificate.

The agent then asked for a confirmation from the Turkish Consulate verifying that Lora would be able to enter Turkey with her ID. It took 15 minutes for an email to arrive, but then the agent went off duty. The new agent (a supervisor) denied boarding even with the email. Lora was told that she would not be able to fly until she obtained a new U.S. or Turkish passport.

I ended up purchasing her a new ticket on Turkish Airlines, and Lora was able to fly the next morning with the same documentation that AA refused. So now I want a refund for the unused ticket and repaid some amount for the new, more expensive ticket. Can you help me? Leon Razzon, Istanbul, Turkey

Answer: Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done when a traveler arrives at the airport without the globally accepted and required documentation for international travel.

Your daughter did not possess the required documentation for a U.S. citizen to enter Turkey as listed on the U.S. State Department’s website. Her U.S. passport was about to expire, and Turkey requires a six-month validity beyond the date of entry.

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You and your daughter believed that because she also carried a Turkish citizen’s card, she would be permitted to travel from the U.S. to Turkey via London. This was a mistaken assumption since a Turkish citizen card is not a listed form of identification for international travel from the United States to Turkey.

But, I thought Lora’s situation was unclear and I contacted American Airlines on your behalf and asked if your daughter was rightfully rejected from her flight to Istanbul.

Our executive contact at American Airlines escalated your concern to corporate security to confirm that your daughter’s case was handled properly.

In fact, the notes in your daughter’s record seem to indicate that she knew that she needed to have a Turkish passport if she wished to travel as a Turkish citizen from the United States. Her record notes that she had said that she “forgot her Turkish passport.”

So that left her traveling as a U.S. citizen, and her U.S. passport only had two weeks before expiration — not nearly enough to legally enter Turkey as a U.S. citizen.

Airlines can be fined heavily for delivering passengers to international destinations without the required entry documents. They have a financial stake in ensuring that all travelers possess the required travel documents — before they board the plane.

It is the traveler’s responsibility to check with the U.S. State Department before they head to the airport. Visiting travel.state.gov before traveling can answer most questions about foreign destinations and their entry requirements.

Of course, if a traveler has a more complicated situation such as your daughter’s, it would be prudent to visit the consulate of the intended destination to find out what is necessary for travel — before attempting to check in for an international flight.

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In the end, American Airlines offered you a goodwill gesture of refunding the return flight that your daughter did not use. However, they reiterated that your daughter did not have the internationally accepted and required documentation for travel to Turkey on a U.S. passport. If she had a Turkish passport or a valid U.S. passport she would have been permitted to fly to Istanbul.

Although you were pleased with this refund, you are not satisfied and have continued to email me your arguments of why American Airlines made an incorrect decision in this case.

Curiously, your adult daughter has remained out of the discourse completely.

Your main argument continues to be that Lora flew the next day without incident to Turkey with the same documents; however, this time, she was on Turkish Airlines. These agents may have been more familiar with a Turkish citizen card and were willing to accept your daughter as a confirmed Turkish citizen with this document.

As I have pointed out to you, this is a battle that your adult daughter should be fighting, and if you believe that American Airlines violated some official policy or regulation (which you have not been able to provide at this time) you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation or consult with a lawyer.

Should American Airlines have allowed Razzon's daughter to fly with her Turkish citizen's card and an expiring U.S. passport?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • Rebecca

    So he received a refund and a polite reminder to double check document requirements? Then instead of kissing your feet, decided to argue about document requirements? Perhaps he should kiss your ass instead.

  • sirwired

    If the the Turkish authorities have seen fit to tell IATA/TIMATIC that Turkish citizens need a Turkish passport to fly to Turkey, AA can hardly be faulted for believing it. (Certainly a US Birth Certificate or similar document would not entitle you to fly to the US.)

    I’m wondering how she ended up getting to Istambul; Turkish airlines doesn’t exactly fly to Raleigh.

  • Jenny Zopa

    No, AA only refunded the unused return portion of the round-trip

  • Grandma

    I just do not see the meaning of the headline. Her citizenship neither complicated nor it has anything to do with this problem. There are close to 100 millions foreign born Americans – with birth ceritificates from 200+ conutries. To expect any airline to validate all those papers at check-in???
    She wanted to travel with a US passport, without the required 6 months validity. End of story.

  • Bill___A

    I am clearly on the side of American Airlines in this case. Whether Turkish Airlines accepted the passenger or not is moot. Turkey would be admitting a Turkish citizen. I am pretty sure that Turkish Airlines wouldn’t fly her back to the US on this documentation. There is no sense getting all bent out of shape over this. The passenger did not have the proper documentation. It isn’t a secret, this could have been found out in advance and dealt with.

  • Michael__K

    TIMATIC (at least the free version that some airlines offer online) is ambiguous and not very helpful for situations involving dual nationals. The interface only allows you to enter one Nationality and one Document/Passport at a time.

    If I go to United Airline’s Timatic page and enter Turkey as the Nationality and “Passport (Normal)” as the travel document, and USA as the issuing country for the travel document, and I enter a passport expiry date less than 60 days out, then Timatic actually reports that this is conditionally ok for travel — as long as you transit airside at a London airport where transit without visa is allowed. But that begs the question of how is Turkish Nationality proven?

    If I enter USA as the Nationality and “Birth Certificate” as the travel document and “Turkey” as the issuing country, then Timatic also comes back with a conditional response, which varies somewhat based on the country of residence. But the gist is that the determination appears to depend mainly on whether the passenger of Turkish origins obtained their new nationality with or without “special consent of the Turkish government.”

  • Attention All Passengers

    Gotta love it when people want to dictate to authorities (airlines and passport control) who, what, where they should “honor” invalid, non-existent or expired documents. Laziness and ignorance is not a reason to make demands that are unreasonable and wrong.

  • pauletteb

    Yes, he received A refund.

  • y_p_w

    Well yeah. International air travel by definition theoretically requires a passport, or perhaps a refugee travel document. However, if you don’t have that, most nations aren’t in the business of denying entry to their own nationals. It’s getting past the airlines that becomes an issue.

  • y_p_w

    The piece said through London. Probably through another airport on top of London.

  • sirwired

    The original itinerary was through London (RDU flies direct to LHR), I just wonder what the new itinerary was…

  • Kristiana Lee

    Having a birth certificate from somewhere doesn’t necessarily equal citizenship. I was born in Taiwan but had to give up citizenship there in order to be naturalized as a US citizen. So if an airline had flown me to Taipei with only my birth certificate, the government there would have just sent me right back because to them I would have been a US citizen without a passport.

  • y_p_w

    That’s a little more complicated. Many nations with jus soli (by soil) citizenship consider a birth certificate to be a de facto citizenship/nationality document. My kid’s birth certificate is valid as a travel document to enter Canada and/or return to the US. Part of it is that by definition a child is not generally considered capable of renouncing US citizenship. However, a child of a diplomat in the United States is generally not considered to be a US citizen at birth by virtue of being born in the United States, although they would still receive a birth certificate. That’s a rare corner case that probably hasn’t been tested too much. On top of that, I’ve heard of children of diplomats who have attempted to assert that they were US citizens by birth. There’s no place where it gets asked and as a de facto document it’s generally assumed to be true. Getting a passport might be another matter if a child was registered with the State Department as the child of a diplomat. However, most government agencies wouldn’t search for that. It’s a basic presumption, and even adults can generally take advantage of it. One is that a birth certificate indicating US birth is valid for entering Canada with a photo ID. It’s also valid for closed loop cruises leaving and returning to the same port in the United States. That’s been a subject on Elliot.org.

    On top of that, naturalizing in the United States doesn’t necessarily require giving up another country’s citizenship. It’s kind of complicated. I’ve asked a few friend from Taiwan, and some believe that they’ve renounced ROC citizenship while others claim they’ve maintained dual nationality.


    Regardless of the US oath of citizenship, one may not necessarily legally renounce foreign citizenship depending on the previous country of nationality. Some require a specific oath of renunciation.

  • y_p_w

    I guess an interesting case is that of the martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. He was born in San Francisco to parents on a performance tour of the United States. The movie Dragon portrayed his father as showing him his birth certificate from the “Jackson Street Hospital” and indicating that it was his ticket to leaving Hong Kong for the United States. However, I’ve found that it was probably just a fabrication. At the time he was born the hospital was renamed “Chinese Hospital” and I’ve seen an archive of documents that show copies of his birth certificate issued by the City and County of San Francisco, and that his parents had already secured a “return certificate” for him to return to the United States.


  • SierraRose 49

    A few questions re: this case: 1. Mr. Razzon stated: “I ended up purchasing her a new ticket on TURKISH AIRLINES, and Lora was able to fly the next morning with the same documentation that AA refused.” What was Lora’s new itinerary, because Turkish Airlines does not fly in/out of Raleigh-Durham airport. Even if Lora was on code share flights, I believe she still would need to show a valid passport to check her luggage to her final destination and to board the initial flight (and possibly the other flights involved). 2. The new AA agent (a supervisor) denied boarding even with the email from the Turkish consulate. What did the email say? 3. Lora KNEW that she needed to have a Turkish passport if she wished to travel as a Turkish citizen from the United States. Her record notes that she had said that she “forgot her Turkish passport.” 4. American Airlines refunded the return flight that Lora did not use.

  • Mark

    A couple of reflections:

    1) The US State Department is not the arbiter of an other country’s immigration requirements. It does provide a helpful place for travellers to check – but the final authority is with the country to which its travellers are going, and its representatives (i.e. consultates)

    2) If the Turkish consulate advised that the passenger had sufficient documentation to be admitted to Turkey, then that’s the end of the story. No other body’s opinion on this (inc. the airline, US State Dept) is valid.

    3) Despite this, reasons why the airline could still have reasonably refused travel are if (a) the Conditions of Carriage placed have more burdensome ID requirements in order to make *any* flight or (b) the passenger had to go landside at Heathrow to make the transit, and didn’t have the right documentation (although an AA-BA transfer at LHR can usually be completed airside, without going through UK immigration)

    4) Assuming either reason in (3) doesn’t stand, if I was the passenger, I’d be filing an EC261 claim with AA for involuntary denied boarding. In theory she’d be eligible for €600 compensation and a refund of the outbound flight.

  • Lindabator

    she was travelling thru London – they would never have accepted the ID, either

  • Mark

    If you’re transiting at LHR and have your luggage through-checked then you do not need to clear UK immigration. This would be the case if she’d bought a through ticket to IST (likely AA to LHR and BA on to IST)

    If she was transiting to a flight from LGW or was not on a through ticket, then yes, she’d need to satisfy UK immigration requirements and would not meet them. Unfortunately the article isn’t clear in this regard.

  • joycexyz

    You mean his daughter did not qualify as “special,” and therefore exempt from the laws?

  • Lindabator

    still need valid ID, which is a valid passport, which she had from neither the US nor Turkey — and England would not just accept a birth cert from Turkey

  • y_p_w

    Didn’t she have a valid US passport? Perhaps not with the required validity for entry to Turkey as a US citizen.

  • y_p_w

    One of the issues I recall was that if an airline is found to have allowed a passenger on board without proper paperwork for the destination, they may face penalties as well as a requirement to return the passengers.

    I’d heard about a friend (minor at the time) whose green card was stolen while he was on vacation overseas to his place of birth, and the country did not have a US embassy or consulate. They did have some sort of “American Institute” that was kind of an unofficial representative of the US government, but they couldn’t issue anything without passing it to an embassy or consulate in another country. He was only allowed to return without a green card when a parent signed a form noting that they understood what was happening, that they understood that the airline didn’t specifically sign off on him having the proper documents, and that his family was liable for any transportation costs to return to the country.

  • y_p_w

    Probably some partner airline or airlines. They’re part of Star Alliance, so it could have been United or Air Canada.

  • SierraRose 49

    Agreed. But my questions still remain. What airline let her board the next day and what documentation did she present? Did she still depart from Raleigh-Durham Airport? And why is her father asking for further remuneration, when American Airlines refunded her entire return flight costs?

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