The one thing you need to know before you leave for the airport

Make sure you have the right travel documents

After Air Canada denied Dong Heon Kim boarding on his recent flight to Korea, he joined the ranks of disappointed travelers who have shown up to the airport ready for take-off only to have their plans thwarted by missing or inadequate travel documents. Now he wants to know if we can help.

Can we? Yes, but not in the way that Kim had hoped.

His story serves as a reminder of the importance of consulting with an official information source before heading to the airport for an international flight. If you don’t verify that you have all the required documentation for travel, you may end up back home where you started.

Uh, oh. What’s an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)?

Kim’s story began when he purchased a ticket on Air Canada through ExploreTrip, an online ticketing agency. When he showed up at the airport for his flight, the Air Canada representatives determined that because his trip stopped in Vancouver, he needed an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) to transit through Canada.

That moment was the first time Kim had heard about this requirement.

But since this ETA can sometimes be granted at the airport, the Air Canada staff assisted Kim with the application. However, he did not receive an immediate approval and missed his flight.

Kim then made another traveling misstep. He says that instead of canceling his flight in person, he sent an email to Air Canada and went home. The airline listed Kim as a no-show.

When an airline determines that a passenger is a no-show, the traveler loses the value of the entire ticket.

So when Kim contacted us, he wanted to know if he could hold ExploreTrip responsible for his lost flight and force it to reimburse him. He believed that someone at this agency should have informed him of his need for an ETA.

As we have pointed out many times, travelers are responsible for making sure that they possess all the required documents. And, expecting an online agency with which Kim had no personal contact, to inform him of his personalized travel needs was especially ill-advised.

Terms of using ExploreTrip

I checked the terms of usage for ExploreTrip, and as expected, under FAQ’s it reads:

What kind of visa and documents are required for my travel? Do I need transit visa?
All international travelers need to have valid documents and visa to get entry into the other country even for certain transit countries. You are responsible to ensure that you have all necessary travel documents and visas before booking the ticket. To check the visa requirement for transit and destination country, please click on this link below to get the relevant details. We suggest you to contact the respective country embassy in [the U.S.] the usa as per your itinerary to get the accurate information for [your visa] and documents.

Under this FAQ was a link to an online tool provided by the International Air transport Association(IATA). With this tool, a traveler can enter their personalized travel information, and the required travel and health documents appear. If Kim had utilized this tool before his intended journey, he would have been alerted to his need for an ETA.

This type of language described in ExploreTrip’s FAQs can be found across the board in the travel industry. Similar disclaimers can be found in the terms of the airlines, online travel agencies and with traditional travel agencies.

Knowing your required travel documents

The responsibility for knowing and obtaining the proper travel documents lies with the traveler. Kim’s case highlights the fact that you also need to check the entry requirements for any country through which your flight may connect.

And it’s not just missing visas or ETAs that could put the brakes on your trip.

Rita Finger recently contacted us because her daughter was denied boarding on her flight to Switzerland. She attempted to check in with less than three months’ validity left on her passport. The requirement for entry to Switzerland is three months beyond the dates of travel. As a result, she incurred an additional expense of $2,500 (to change her flight) and the cost of an expedited passport. Her mother wants to know who will reimburse her daughter.

Unfortunately, the answer is no one. When a traveler makes a mistake such as this, they almost always bear the financial burden.

The U.S. Department of State can help

Long before packing your suitcase, make sure to consult the Department of State’s website. Here, you will find an abundance of information for your international travel needs. You can also find the contact information for the embassy of the country to which you plan to travel. This embassy will be the ultimate authority on the currently needed travel documents for your destination.

By the way, a consumer advocacy site also cannot be relied upon to give you advice as to what travel documents you will need. We have had several consumers post to our forums recently asking for guidance about their complicated travel needs.

We can’t give that type of advice.

As we have seen time and again, the implications of having the wrong information can be disastrous. Who could forget the recent case of Elgy Gillespie who tried to fly to Ireland with no passport at all? That was an expensive mistake.

Please consult the embassy or consulate of the country to which you wish to travel to make certain of your needed travel documents.

We never like to hear about travelers missing their planned vacations and losing money in the process. But, we hope that by providing this information, we can prevent our readers from ending up in similar circumstances. Remember, doing your pre-travel research can save you a big headache down the road.

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