How she learned a valuable lesson about Chinese visas

A lesson about Chinese visas

If you’re planning to fly into or through China, even if you’re just making a connection, get a Chinese visa. I repeat: get a Chinese visa. Without one, your airline can get away with denying you boarding. Sara Peterson had to learn this painful lesson about Chinese visas when China Southern Airlines wouldn’t let her fly.

Peterson’s story is one more reminder that it’s risky to book complicated international trips using third-party websites. It’s also a warning that even if a foreign embassy tells you that you don’t need a visa, you should obtain one anyway. Every traveler is responsible for obtaining the correct travel documents for transit through foreign countries. And no one, from airlines to travel agents to embassies, will accept responsibility for travelers not having the right documents. Peterson, like Rosalie Dajay, learned this lesson about Chinese visas the hard way.

A change to her itinerary

Peterson, her husband and their daughter were traveling from Busan, South Korea, to Rome. They booked their flights through, a travel website. Peterson had a screenshot showing that her flight would stop in Wuhan, China, where she would make a connection to Rome on CSA Czech Airlines.

China allows air travelers from 53 countries, including the U.S. and South Korea, to transit through 18 cities for a 72-hour period without visas. Wuhan is among the 18 qualifying cities. But China firmly enforces restrictions on these travelers. They must have onward tickets with confirmed seats for flights out of the same cities into which they flew. The 72-hour clock starts at midnight on the day following the entry date. The visa-free option is not available for visiting more than one Chinese city within the 72-hour window.

Then Peterson learned that CSA Czech Airlines had canceled one of her flights. The airline offered her a choice of rescheduling or refunding the flight. She chose to reschedule. The airline rebooked her and her family on China Southern Airlines, which sent her new tickets. The new itinerary had two stops, one in Guangzhou and one in Shanghai. The stop in Wuhan no longer appeared on her itinerary.

A difficult lesson about Chinese visas: The Chinese embassy’s information was wrong!

Concerned about the change, Peterson contacted the Chinese embassy to inquire whether she needed a visa. The embassy employee to whom Peterson spoke told her that she would not need a visa. Relying on this information, Peterson and her family did not obtain Chinese visas.

When they tried to check in at the Busan airport, a China Southern Airlines agent asked for their Chinese transit visas. The agent informed them that there was a hidden layover in Wuhan, requiring them to have transit visas. Peterson asked the airline employees to reroute her and her family to avoid the layover in Wuhan. China Southern Airlines’ employees refused to assist her, claiming that the airline would not refund or change her tickets. It also refused to provide her with written proof of the interaction.

The $1,451 she forfeited for her family’s original tickets contained an expensive lesson about Chinese visas. Peterson had to pay for more costly tickets to continue the trip.

International finger-pointing

Peterson then contacted both China Southern Airlines and, seeking a refund for the cost of her original tickets. Unfortunately, she learned another difficult lesson about what can happen when you book flights through a third-party website. China Southern Airlines told her that it could not assist her because she had booked her tickets through And pointed its finger at CSA Czech Airlines, telling Peterson that she would have to fill out a complaint form on that airline’s website.

Peterson tried to follow up with each party, but the only response she received was silence. She then turned to our advocates for help. (Our website has contact information for China Southern Airlines and CSA Czech Airlines. We don’t yet have contact information for

Unfortunately for Peterson, neither China Southern Airlines’ conditions of international carriage nor’s terms of use help her out. Both sites contain the standard disclaimers of liability for errors in anything on their sites. China Southern Airlines’ conditions of international carriage contain the following language, which allows the airline to disclaim responsibility for travel documents:

The passenger shall present all exits [sic], entry, health and other documents required by laws, regulations, orders, demands or requirements of the countries concerned…. CSN reserves the right to refuse carriage of any passenger who has not complied with applicable laws, regulations, orders, demands or requirements or whose documents do not appear to be in order.’s terms of use contain a similar disclaimer:

Under no circumstances can be responsible if you do not have the valid and correct travel documents or permissions to travel. It is your responsibility to be in possession of a valid passport and, if required, a visa. Every destination has its own requirements concerning entry formalities, customs, vaccinations, etc. cannot be responsible for incidents deriving from cases when such official requirements are not followed.

A surprise ending

Peterson sent our advocate, Dwayne Coward, a screenshot of her original booking, showing the stop in Wuhan. She also provided a copy of her revised itinerary. Dwayne reached out to China Southern Airlines and on Peterson’s behalf.

China Southern Airlines never responded to Dwayne or Peterson. An employee of replied: “It looks like the information about the additional stop in Wuhan was not provided in that ticket and we agree that this is indeed misleading for the passenger. This misinformation from the side of the airline seems to have led to another misinformation from the embassy, which, in its turn, led to the confusion during boarding described by the passenger.” The employee agreed to help Peterson, but reiterated that “cannot be held responsible for the lack of travel documents or wrong information provided to the passenger by the airline or the embassy.” But all Peterson or Dwayne heard after that from was that the travel agency was waiting to hear back from China Southern Airlines.

After a month of silence, Peterson asked her credit card company to investigate the situation. The credit card company issued Peterson a chargeback. Peterson asked whether she should notify of the chargeback. She wanted the travel agency to complete its investigation, concerned that China Southern Airlines might pursue her for the cost of her original ticket. Dwayne advised her that the airline could send her account to a collection agency. But as a foreign carrier, China Southern Airlines was not likely to do so.

Peterson’s lesson about Chinese visas was a long journey in search of a refund for an expensive trip. I’ll end this story with a third exhortation: If you’re going through China, get a Chinese visa. Just in case.

Who should have assumed responsibility for notifying Sara Peterson and her family that they needed Chinese visas?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend