I had to fly from London to Lyon to present my master’s degree thesis at the University of Grenoble.
I am a Syrian national based in Germany and, to avoid any problems, I checked that my documents were in order on BA’s website and arrived at Heathrow three hours early. However, the BA staff member at the boarding gate was unable to read German or French and refused to accept my documents. She humiliated me in front of other passengers, saying I would not be allowed to board. I eventually found a staff member who confirmed my documents were in order and booked me onto the next flight.
I reached Lyon at midnight and missed the connecting bus to Grenoble where I’d prepaid for a hotel room, so I had to spend another €74 on a room at the airport finally reaching Grenoble 14 hours later than planned and on a Sunday when everything was closed. The stress and exhaustion affected my presentation and I did less well then hoped.
TA, Darmstadt, Germany
Your experience is, alas, not uncommon for non-EU passengers. Last October I exposed the plight of travellers, some refugees or immigrants with residency permits, denied boarding because they were wrongly told they needed visas to travel within the European Economic Area (EEA). A little-known consequence of the 1985 Schengen Agreement that abolished border checks was that airlines were effectively substituted as border controllers. They face a fine of between €3,000 (£2,640) and €5,000 if they are found to have flown non-EU nationals with inadequate or forged documentation into the EEA and have to shoulder the cost and responsibility of flying them back to the country they started from.
Small wonder, then, airline staff err on the side of caution.
After two months you had still received no more than a holding reply from BA. But, under the media spotlight, it has at last stumped up the statutory €250 compensation for denied boarding and a refund for the emergency hotel room. None of which compensates for the humiliation and stress.
Although it admits you were incorrectly barred, it admits no fault saying: “We are required to ensure all customers have valid documents for the country of destination … we have apologised for the delay as a result of additional checks.”
Caymanian DB was similarly barred by Norwegian Air when trying to fly with her partner and two friends from New York to Paris. She was wrongly told she needed a visa and directed to the French consulate which meant a weekend stay in a New York hotel waiting for it to open. The consulate then confirmed a visa was not required. They then had to pay for new tickets to Paris via London and Eurostar leaving them around £5,000 out of pocket. Only this week, five months after the aborted trip and after the Observer intervened, did Norwegian pay $2,422. It says: “We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience and delay caused by incorrect travel eligibility information flagged by a database which is used by airlines across the world. Norwegian has carefully reviewed the circumstances and will reimburse the cost of train travel and fulfil our obligations under EU compensation regulations.”
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