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?

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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. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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