Why can’t I transit through London?

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By Christopher Elliott

Mita Upadhyay has a “Catch-22” problem with a visa, but British Airways wants $500 to fix it. Is that good customer service – or a hard lesson learned about having the right paperwork?

Question

I’m an Indian national residing in the United States. I was scheduled to fly from Houston to Mumbai on British Airways recently. My itinerary involved a short stopover in London.

In Houston, while checking in with British Airways, I was denied boarding because my work visa was not stamped in my passport. The original visa stamped in my passport had expired and I was traveling to India in order to get my renewed visa stamped at the U.S. consulate in Mumbai.

I was carrying an application that permits me to continue living and working legally in the U.S. and to travel abroad. However, before re-entering the U.S., I’m required to obtain a valid U.S. visa stamp in my passport.

I tried my best to explain this to the check-in agent; however, she was adamant in not allowing me to transit through London. This was a Catch-22 situation for me — I could not go to India without my visa stamped in my passport and I could not get my visa stamped unless I visited the consulate in India.

The British Airways check-in staff was very unsympathetic and unhelpful. I was quoted a charge of around $500 to allow me to fly on my return ticket. I said I was ready to fly out to Mumbai with a different carrier. I’ve tried to get a partial refund from the airline for my unused ticket, but it hasn’t responded. Can you help me? — Mita Upadhyay, Corpus Christi, Texas

Answer

British Airways should have made its travel policies regarding visas crystal-clear to you. I checked with the airline, and it insists it did.

In order to transit in the UK without a visa on an Indian passport, you need one of seven types of documents. It may include a valid U.S. visa sticker in your passport or a valid U.S. permanent resident card.

“Our staff in Houston would seem to have been correct to deny this passenger boarding,” said an airline spokeswoman. “There are links on ba.com that allow passengers to check their passport and visa requirements for their journey.” (Here’s what you need to know about passports, visas and IDs.)

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Visa stamp required from the consulate in Mumbai

At the same time, British Airways should have been more compassionate about your situation, in the interests of good customer service. You couldn’t get the required stamp without visiting the consulate in Mumbai. Given your predicament, it would have been a nice gesture of the airline to reroute you on a flight that didn’t require a stopover in London. (Related: Avoid visa problems this summer. Here’s how.)

But it wasn’t required to do that. Unfortunately, having all your paperwork in order is your responsibility and yours alone. Even if British Airways didn’t disclose its visa requirements on its site, you would have still been responsible. And yes, even if your travel agent had told you otherwise.

Still, British Airways offered a refund of $125 and a $600 flight credit. It represents half of your airfare to Mumbai — an exceptionally generous resolution.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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