“You are my last hope”

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By Christopher Elliott

I want to help Krista Krauss. I think she deserves to be helped. And when you start an email with “You are my last hope,” how can I not at least try?

But I’m not sure she has a case.

Krauss was on her honeymoon last fall when she ran into a paperwork problem. A common paperwork problem that, I have to admit, almost derailed my last trip to Europe. Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your date of departure when you cross the border.

“We flew into London for the first leg of our journey on Monday, Sept. 15, without an issue,” she says. “Then we were to fly to Frankfurt on Thursday.”

They never did. A Lufthansa representative told her she couldn’t board the flight because her passport expired the next month.

“I was told by the Lufthansa steward that my passport needed to be valid three months beyond my journey, which caught me completely off guard as I had already checked in and my passport information was verified,” she says.

This “Should I Take The Case?” problem is a little different than the rest because we have a fairly good paper trail between Krauss and Lufthansa, although I haven’t solicited an official response. I will if you tell me to.

Here’s what happened next: A Lufthansa ticket agent instructed the newlyweds to go to the American embassy in London to get an emergency extension on her passport. “We arrived at the embassy 10 minutes before they closed, so they unfortunately were unable to see me,” she says. “They instead offered me the first appointment in the morning. We were forced to get a hotel room that night in London. The cheapest hotel we could find was £222.” (Here’s what you need to know about passport and visas.)

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Here’s why she thinks Lufthansa should refund her hotel:

I am a very savvy traveler, as I work in the travel industry, and I was not aware of this three-month requirement. The passport was valid far after I was to return home and I have never heard of this law in all my experience.

I understand it was my mistake that I didn’t know the law and I take responsibility for that. But the airline let me check in and did not inform me that there was a problem with my passport.

Not only did I check in online the day before the flight, but the ticket agent checked me and my baggage in at the airport, too.

My disappointment stems from the fact that I entered my passport information, including the expiration date, online during the check-in process, and I was allowed to check in. And, I checked in at the airport with my luggage and was not told by that ticket agent either. It wasn’t until I was literally getting on the airplane that anyone bothered to correctly inform me of this situation. And by that time it was too late to change my flight and too late to get to the embassy that day, forcing us to stay overnight and delay our travels.

Let’s go straight to Lufthansa’s response:

We regretted to hear that you were not able to travel as planned on September 18, 2014 from London to Frankfurt due to passport expiration restrictions. We can only imagine your disappointment.

Lufthansa is not part of the immigration service of any country and, therefore, cannot be liable for any compliance or lack thereof. Each country’s government has its own regulations concerning visa and passport permits, and Lufthansa has no influence regarding their implementation. The Consulate or Embassy of each individual country included in an itinerary should be consulted prior to commencement of travel due to frequently changing regulations.

Lufthansa’s General Conditions of Carriage states that Lufthansa may refuse carriage if the passenger does not have valid travel documents and that the passenger is responsible for obtaining all required travel documents and visas and for complying with all laws, regulations and requirements of countries from which or to which the passenger wishes to travel or transit through.

In addition, Lufthansa shall not be held responsible for the consequences or expenses that result from the failure to obtain such documents or incomplete documentation from the non-compliance with such laws, regulations and requirements. Therefore, your request for compensation in this regard is respectfully denied.

As per Lufthansa’s tariff filings, the fare type purchased was a restricted ticket. According to your record, your ticket was issued against a special fare economy ticket by your Travel Agent which may be subject to restrictive conditions. In the case of special fares, it is necessary to contact the Travel Agency that issued the ticket for all conditions associated with the fare (i.e. maximum validity, change fees or refunds). We apologize for any misinformation you may have received.

We apologize for the inconvenience and additional expenses incurred as a result of a baggage irregularity. Luggage is normally processed with care and accuracy and the vast majority is handled without incident. Of course, we realize that statistics have little meaning to a passenger whose baggage has been mishandled and regret the less than positive impression gained.

We would like to be of assistance with your expenses while without your bags. If you would like to receive reimbursement for 100% of your purchases, it is Lufthansa’s policy to reimburse reasonable interim purchases up to the maximum liability limitations established by the Montreal Convention. Please forward the purchased items (excluding toiletries and undergarments) with original receipts to the address below. Should you not have the original receipts, please forward receipt copies or other proof of purchase for our consideration.

So, sorry — we’ll help buy a few toiletries. But otherwise, you’re outta luck.

Of course, Lufthansa is correct. It wasn’t responsible for Krauss’ passport. She was. (Here’s what to do if you waited too long to get your passport renewed.)

But here’s her point, and I agree with it. Why can’t the airline flag an expired passport before she arrives at the airport — indeed, before she books her ticket? How hard can that be? (Related: Lufthansa stranded my 16-year-old son in Detroit.)

We receive a lot of complaints about Lufthansa. Airlines like Lufthansa have access to some of the most advanced technology, and they use it to schedule their planes, crews, and handle reservations. I’ve seen the level of sophistication and it’s pretty mind-boggling. Airlines use state-of-the-art technology to set and sell airline ticket prices, which they refer to as “yield management” software.

Why can’t some of this technology be used to ensure your passport will be accepted?

“This experience all but ruined our honeymoon,” says Krauss. “I feel very deceived and upset that I am out $1,400 — $800 for new plane tickets, $400 for the hotel plus two $100 taxi rides. I am flabbergasted that the airline doesn’t want to take responsibility for the error in checking me in.”

That makes two of us.

Should I take Krista Krauss' case?

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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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