Help! I believe that an Air Canada agent damaged my visa


Douglas Greenfield wasn’t expecting to be grounded when he departed for his vacation – let alone that a gate agent would cause it to happen. Yet he found himself prevented from boarding his Air Canada flight because of a damaged visa. He would like us to help him seek reimbursement from Air Canada for the cost of his trip.

Greenfield’s case is a warning to travelers that they need to ensure that their travel documents are in good order before leaving home – and if they see travel company agents mishandle those documents, they need to immediately put a stop to it. Had Greenfield done so, he would have been able to enjoy his vacation.

Greenfield and his wife purchased tickets on Air Canada for a vacation in Brazil, during which they planned to see their two-year-old granddaughter. Greenfield’s wife departed weeks earlier as he had only one week’s vacation. Greenfield had a ten-year multiple entry visa for Brazil that he used since 2010 with no problems until his recent experience with Air Canada.

When he arrived at the Air Canada counter at Boston’s Logan Airport, the ticketing agent took his passport, opened it to the visa page and tried to run it through the scanner. She asked Greenfield if he was Brazilian and if he had a green card. Greenfield replied that she was holding his U.S. passport and attempting to scan his visa.

The agent immediately got hold of a supervisor, who processed Greenfield’s passport and checked his status. The supervisor said “everything looked fine,” but could not scan Greenfield’s visa. He told Greenfield that the visa was damaged.

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Says Greenfield,

One corner of the bar code was torn off making it so the scanner could not read the code. I didn’t see this damage when I inspected my passport prior to going to the airport nor was it brought to my attention when I last returned from Brazil in April, 2016. I suspect that the attendant damaged it because of her continuous scanning of the visa, thinking it was a passport barcode, until I asked her to stop and brought this to her attention.

Greenfield replied that the agent had tried to scan the visa several times and suggested that she had damaged it. The agent denied damaging the visa, and after several minutes of debate, the supervisor refused to give Greenfield a boarding pass.

As Greenfield could not board his flight, he was forced to go home and give up his vacation as he could not get a replacement visa. He called Air Canada several times seeking a refund for his airfare and asking to speak to a supervisor, but Air Canada refused both requests.


Air Canada offered Greenfield a 25-percent discount off his next airfare, but Greenfield isn’t happy with this solution:

I’ve lost my vacation with my wife who gets back today, a week later, and I am still out $1,500. …
I would like at the very least a 100 percent refund on my ticket and better yet my wife’s as well, since we did not get to spend our vacation together, and I missed out on seeing my two-year-old granddaughter for another year.

Greenfield has asked our advocacy team for assistance with his case, but we’re uncertain that we should pursue it.

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Unfortunately for Greenfield, all airlines require that travel documents be available and in good condition and make clear in their contracts of carriage and international tariffs that this is the responsibility of the passengers. Air Canada is no exception:

Each passenger desiring transportation across any international boundary will be responsible for obtaining all necessary travel documents and for complying with all government travel requirements. The passenger must present all exit, entry and other documents required by the laws, and unless applicable laws provide otherwise, shall indemnify the carrier for any loss, damage, or expense suffered or incurred by such carrier by reason of such passenger’s failure to do so. Carrier is not liable to the passenger for loss or expense due to the passenger’s failure to comply with this provision. Carrier reserves the right to refuse carriage to any passenger who has not complied with applicable laws, regulations, orders, demands or requirements or whose documents are not complete.

Another problem with Greenfield’s case is that, notwithstanding Air Canada’s disclaimer of liability for not having a usable visa, he can’t prove that the Air Canada ticketing agent who tried to scan his visa was responsible for damaging it. And even if he could prove it, he would not be entitled to compensation for his wife’s airfare.

Our advocate suggested that Greenfield write polite letters to Air Canada’s executives using the contact information on our website, allowing each a week to respond before escalating his complaint to the next higher-ranking executive in the corporate chain of command. We also invited Greenfield to post in our forums about his case, although he hasn’t done so as of this writing.

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We’re asking our readers:

Should our advocates try to help Douglas Greenfield get refunds for his and his wife's airfares from Air Canada?

View Results

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • Alan Gore

    When a barcode doesn’t scan, why can’t the agent just manually enter the number? I see this done at the supermarket all the time. Air Canada is just looking for an excuse to deny boarding and leave a pax stranded.

  • Rebecca

    I’m not saying it’s impossible. But I’m confused as to how scanning a barcode could damage it. I assume she’s holding it under the scanner. Not jamming it into anything. For sake of argument, if a small piece ripped off, wouldn’t it be right there? Thinking about how she’d be holding It, if a corner piece ripped, wouldn’t it be right there?

    Unfortunately, I don’t think anything will come of this. There’s no way to prove how it was damaged. On top of that, his request for his wife’s ticket to be refunded, despite the fact she took the trip, is very off putting.

    Was he classified as a no-show? Or does he have the amount originally spent as a credit, minus a change fee? If it’s the latter, a 25% discount will give him a do over. Which is a perfectly reasonable solution.

  • Rebecca

    If a piece is ripped off so it won’t scan, that means the entire length of it is gone. Which also means the numbers would be gone for that section.

    Alternatively, I’m not sure there even are numbers. I’ve never had a visa to enter Brazil.

  • sirwired

    Most countries, the US included, have rules about damaged or mutilated documents.

  • Fishplate

    It’s important to note that this was the eight year of that visa being pasted in his passport. In all that time, there’s bound to be some normal wear and tear…

  • sirwired

    Passport are usually, if not always, swiped, not zapped with a light-gun thing…

  • sirwired

    I can totally see repeatedly attempting to scan the visa as damaging; running paper through those swipe-style passport scanners repeatedly is bound to eventually cause a problem.

    But I think this is now mired in an unsolvable, unprovable, situation.

    That said, how can the agent possibly have confused the passport, with which you scan the cover or the first page, with a visa, which is in the middle of the book? Yes, a Brazillian visa looks similar to a passport data page (saw pictures online), but it’s just not in the right location.

  • Hanope

    If the passenger had photographed/photocopied the visa, in its entirety, before having it “scanned”, and then when the visa was damaged, present the photocopy to have evidence of the entire visa, would that had worked?

    Its just that how is the passenger going to know what the agent is going to do with the passport, before the agent actually takes the action?

  • Lindabator

    I think she was just scanning the visa, which is required – it said the supervisor also tried to, but due to the damage was unable and told him he could not fly

  • sirwired

    Yes, I imagine scanning the visa is indeed required, but it appears the agent was trying to scan the visa AS a passport, repeatedly, which could have damaged it.

  • MarkKelling

    I don’t think a copy would be acceptable any more than a copy of your picture page from your passport would be acceptable in place of the actual document. Photoshop is the reason.

  • MarkKelling

    Look at the photo page of your passport. See the info at the bottom surrounded by “<" type characters? That is the "barcode" which is not really a bar code. If that is ripped, you lose the info.

  • Bill___A

    I can’t speculate as to what happened at Air Canada. I can well imagine someone who should know better not knowing what to scan. I have seen what could be called “document abuse” at another airline. One of the many issues I have seen at Skywest, who often operate as United Express. I could see this woman being very rough with ID and could not find another line. Sure enough, she was rough on my passport. I then politely asked her to not be so rough with the ID but she couldn’t have cared less. She was, by far, the oldest airline employee I have ever seen. I don’t think she was concerned about career advancement. While in this line, I even considered just walking away and eating the cost of a ticket on another airline.

    I don’t think the document abuse was bad enough to damage bar codes, but rough handling and disrespect of passenger documents is real and in the USA, of that I can attest.

    I wrote United’s customer service, in the vain hope that they could have a supervisor monitor and correct this situation at Skywest in Denver, but as per their usual process, United customer service seemed to have skimmed over my email and their response indicated zero comprehension of my issue. It is infuriating when customer service is a dead end. There were other issues with Skywest’s operations and my solution was to just stop flying them in general, and from Denver in particular.

    I am not siding with the OP in this case, but I am saying some things need to be fixed.

  • MarkKelling

    The passport scanner requires you to insert the passport, open to the page you want to scan, into the device. It is not the laser beam boarding pass reader type. Placing the document page into the reader and removing it multiple times can cause damage to the page if you are not careful.
    If you look at the picture page in your passport, the text at the bottom of the page is what was referred to as a “barcode”. Unlike a barcode, if this gets damaged, it is the data that is lost There is no manual entering of it especially when damaged.

  • Michael__K

    Not true. According to samples the bar code (top right) extends well beyond the visa number, which also appears redundantly elsewhere on the Visa.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/48135acdf340944b578e36b120f8d293a740e7dd067380dc74b94f098088c9d0.jpg

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/26233de63b6ca05ad8393d2e0b927b7d5f2a3b42b6a4f8838a09086066a1ce90.jpg

  • Michael__K

    If the visa was damaged before it was scanned, then why didn’t the agent observe this and point this out originally, before attempting to (improperly) scan it via the passport scanner multiple times?

    Did the agents make any effort to look for the detached corner and/or to let the passenger look behind the counter to check if it was there?

  • MarkKelling

    You believe agents think? ;-)
    The agent may have noticed the damage but attempted to scan it as a favor to the passenger. If it would have worked, then no issue. Since it didn’t work, well here we are.
    I never had a visa from Brazil, so I’m not sure how well it fits into a passport. It might hang out a bit and could then be damaged over time through normal wear and tear. This visa is 7 years old already and may have just worn out.

  • Michael__K

    I don’t believe that for one second in this case because the agent proved that they didn’t know how to scan this Visa which should not have been swiped in the credit card/Passport slot.
    Besides asking the passenger for their green card while holding their US Passport….

  • GG

    While I cannot say who is responsible for the damage, once it has occurred Air Canada would be right in refusing to board him. Typically countries do not allow entry with damaged Visas / Passports. He might have gone to Brazil, denied entry, and got put on the same flight back.

    Given the circumstances he might try appealing to AC to get the price of his ticket credited towards future travel.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If the OP had asked the agent to be careful, I can just hear the agent calling the airport police for a rude customer, who had the audacity to want Air Canada to take due care. That is like suggesting someone talk to a flight attendant about a problem. Nowadays, that sounds like license to get kicked off a flight, if not arrested.

    Air Canada should make the OP whole. There is no excuse for damaging a traveler’s documents. That means a refund of his airfare (his wife got to go on the trip). I think a 25% discount for the next time would also be appropriate.

  • Michael__K

    So where is Brazil’s rule and why didn’t Air Canada cite it?

    I can’t find it; I can find some generic language that Brazil “reserves the right not to accept soiled, damaged or defaced *passports*” Which implies even that is not automatic and there is some discretion.

    The airlines have the perverse incentive to always err against the passenger and keep their money and give their seat to someone else, regardless of any country-specific rules.

  • sirwired

    What you are looking at is the requirements to obtain the visa to begin with, which don’t have anything to do with entry at the border. But, in any case, if they will bounce a visa application for a damaged passport, it’s not a stretch that they are going to bounce somebody at the border for a damaged visa. (Couldn’t find anything specific about Brazil, but certainly the US wouldn’t take a damaged visa; found that explicitly spelled out on the US State Dept. website.) Again, the idea that damaged travel documents may be rejected as invalid is not unusual.

    And yes, there might be some discretion, but since that would involve the ticket agent in Boston trying to read the mind of the passport control clerk in Brazil, and since making a mistake on the side of letting the passenger travel results often in both a fine payable by the airline AND an involuntary seat on the next flight home for the passenger, yes, they DO err in not letting people travel, and I’d say that’s an excellent reason for doing so.)

  • Michael__K

    The frequently invoked excuse about government fines is sheer nonsense in this case. Brazil wouldn’t be able to prove when the damage to the Visa occurred (before or after presentation at checkin) any better than the passenger.

  • sirwired

    It doesn’t matter to Brazil when the visa was damaged. All they have to prove is that a passenger showed up at Passport Control there without valid travel documents. (Maybe would be some discretion there on levying a fine, but the requirement that the passenger be put on the next flight home is not.)

  • Michael__K

    Source? Which Brazilian laws/regulations are you referring to?

    What you claim applies to Brazil doesn’t even apply in the US. Forget damage; for many years it hasn’t applied in the US even if the traveler never presented an unexpired visa or passport at all….
    https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2016/03/08/feds-want-fine-airline-travelers-without-visas/81475540/

    Of course no one showed up without valid travel documents in this case. Brazil should have no trouble verifying the validity of their own visa, with or without the far upper-right-hand corner.

  • sirwired

    Does it really matter if there’s a fine or not? (I can’t read Portugese, so it’s kind of hard to check whatever their version of the CFR is) Fine or not, the passenger still has to be involuntarily put on the next flight home, and no airline will transport passengers they do not believe will be allowed to enter the country on the other end, fine or no fine. (A fine is just icing on the proverbial cake.)

    And, again, the idea that a damaged travel document is not considered valid isn’t unusual. You wouldn’t think that the US would have trouble verifying the validity of our visas, but the State Dept. says travelers to the US need a new one anyway.

  • Michael__K

    Right, my point is simply that the airline has the perverse incentive to always err against the passenger, and pocket their money, regardless of whatever other small risks they avoid as a bonus. We’ve seen cases in the forums where agents denied boarding to US-bound passengers because they failed to recognize a valid temporary I-551 stamp. And there were no US/CBP fines in effect.

    Part of the problem is that there is no penalty for over-reaching and inappropriately rejecting the passengers’ travel documents.

    BTW, the US State Dept does instruct travelers to go to their embassy or consulate and apply for a new visa if there is any damage. But if you read various accounts of travelers experiences, a consular officer assesses the damage and determines if a new visa is really required (it may or may not be).

  • Grandma

    I am surprised by the question, if advocates should involved in this. Denied boarding becuase of visa/passport problems are the first in the list of the cases Chriss does not mediate. (See the site FAQ)
    There is some reason for this. This case even worse, because the base of the complain that an AC agent ruined the visa.
    I am wondering, even if they want to advocate, how would they start it?

  • Rebecca

    Even if that’s the case, I’m not going to even try to speculate. I’m not privy to the rules concerning Brazilian visas. The airlines, customs, the Brazilian government, anyone’s.

    I DO know that a damaged travel document may or may not be accepted. I think there’s way too much he said/she said here to make any kind of determination.

  • Rebecca

    But even if it’s not “zapped”, a piece of paper that ripped off is going to be right there. It doesn’t just disappear into the abyss. I think I didn’t word it correctly. I can see how it could be damaged. But that still doesn’t explain how the ripped off piece wasn’t right there.

  • Michael__K

    Lack of definitive information rarely seems to discourage speculation defending the travel company’s actions…..

  • AAGK

    Do I get a refund for not spending my vacation with Doug Greenfield either? Who knew that was compensable.

  • AAGK

    How many years has this guy had the thing? How many seconds did the agent have the thing? It’s not defending the company draw the obvious conclusion. However, it is odd that if presented damaged, the agent would not have mentioned it. Is there a way to enter the info manually so he didn’t miss the flight? We have all experienced various scanner fails.

  • Michael__K

    This was not a scanner fail. The Visa barcode is not designed to go through the passport/credit card swipe slot. If it’s scanned it’s supposed to be scanned with a laser handheld or mounted device.

  • MarkKelling

    I tried to be nice and not blame the OP for the damage. But it could be the damage was already done and just not noticed until the day of the flight.

  • Tigger57

    I couldn’t vote because I think he should get his money back but why should his wife?

  • Attention All Passengers

    All airlines (agents) have access to Timatic, whereby they CAN MANUALLY enter visa information into that database. Air Canada got twisted into a knot because the passenger objected to the rough handling of the passport page and the Air Canada agents had egg on their face. Ridiculous and a total loss for the passenger over someone’s sloppy and inept attempt at check-in. He really needs to contact the Air Canada executives as suggested above.

  • cscasi

    Nonetheless, they could have refused him entry on that basis and sent him back on the next flight. They don’t have to prove when the damage was caused. They can just be sticklers and hold the visa holder to the rules if they so desire. And, I have seen it done in years past. That is why the airlines want to make certain one’s documents are correct because if the passenger is refused entry into a country because of document issues, it has to absorb the cost of transporting the passenger back home and, yes, they can and do get fined (not always, but it has happened).

  • cscasi

    Glad to know that it “may or may not be”; meaning it just may well require a new visa as not. It is on a case by case basis, so how can one judge whether or not a new one is required?

  • Michael__K

    Glad to know that the airline is entitled to reject one’s documents regardless, even if new ones are not required.

  • Michael__K

    They don’t? You don’t know any of that, you just assume….
    If this was just about following rules and procedures then maybe the agent could cite the relevant country-specific rule and they could also refrain from repeatedly swiping a bar code through a magnetic card reader….

  • AAGK

    So then it wasn’t damaged, she used the wrong tool? Then I would be irate. If the airline doesn’t know this info, could you recommend where a pax could obtain these specifics so they can escalate at the airport?

  • Michael__K

    At least the first agent used the wrong tool. Those card swipe devices are magnetic readers which read magnetic strips. A magnetic strip reader won’t read a printed bar code. That’s what laser scanners are for.

    I gather that the supervisor probably used the right tool, but the bar code won’t scan if part of the bar code is missing (not a scanner fail). We don’t know, but it’s completely plausible that the missing corner was torn during the repeated attempts to swipe it through the magnetic card reader.

  • Shirley G

    I said Yes because I know how horrible Air Canada is. I emailed using your list and got totally ignored. File a DOT. Might get somewhere.

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