Here’s an Olympic-size story with a happy ending.
The Brazilian government has waived its visa requirement for U.S., Canadian, Australian and Japanese citizens traveling for tourism between June 1 and Sept. 18. You can thank the Rio games for that little courtesy.
But Tyler Winchell contacted us recently because he was planning to fly from Los Angeles to Rio on June 1, the day the visa requirements are temporarily lifted.
And that’s a problem. He explains:
American Airlines has not updated their visa requirements and it’s preventing me from taking my June trip to Brazil.
My flight lands in Rio de Janeiro on June 1, which is the start of the U.S. Visa Waiver program.
American insists that I have a Brazilian visa to board.
I received conflicting information from American as to whether it was the Brazilian consulate’s rule or theirs. They insisted I contact the embassy, so I did. The Brazilian consulate confirmed that there was no rule compelling U.S. airlines to enforce the visa for flights landing in Brazil on/after June 1.
I called American, and they kept referring to a rule stating that only U.S. Olympic athletes are exempt. When I explained that the Brazilian consulate confirmed that no such rule will be in effect that day, they insisted they would not let me board without the visa. Neither the U.S. State Department nor the Brazilian Foreign Office requires this. American told me to confirm my documents with IATA, which I did, and a visa is not required.
They keep insisting, which means I can’t go on my vacation.
What an awful place to be, stuck between bureaucracies.
“I want to go on my vacation,” he says. “This is my first in three years. If American will not waive the visa requirement to board the flight in LAX, then [they should] waive the change fee and allow me to move the flight up one or two days. Or, as a last resort, refund my ticket price.”
His question is absolutely fair and answerable. After all, a tourist visa will set you back $160.
So we asked.
“He is fine,” our airline contact told us. “We don’t require a visa if you arrive on June 1. “We also don’t require a visa when you purchase your ticket.”
Another vacation saved. And now we know about the rule, too.
But should it be so difficult to get a straight answer from an airline? Does it take an Olympic-size effort?
Like I have to ask.
Here’s what should have happened: American should have posted clear information using unambiguous language on its site. If passengers like Winchell still had questions, one of its helpful customer service agents should have answered him quickly.
Our advocacy team is grateful to American for helping us and their own customer. But really, is it asking too much to help your own customer?
We shouldn’t have to ask. In fact, we shouldn’t be having this discussion at all. There’s no reason to have a visa requirement for Brazil, and vice versa. But that’s another discussion.