Our family was barred from boarding a plane to South Africa | Money

My daughter and her family arrived at Heathrow to catch a Virgin flight to South Africa in October. Tickets were booked via Lastminute.com. At the check-in desk they were asked for the children’s birth certificates, which they did not have. They were therefore refused boarding. Virgin staff said my daughter should have known because the information was on its website.

The family had no alternative but to go home to fetch the birth certificates and, as Virgin was unable or unwilling to rebook their flight, had to book with another airline for the next day, which cost £3,000.

They later discovered that as they were marked as a “no-show” for their outward bound flight, their return tickets had been voided and they would have to rebook that, too, at a cost of more than £2,000.

Staff admitted it was common for families to be denied boarding for this reason, in which case – while ignorance is not an excuse – should they not provide better information?


Always consult the Foreign Office website for entry requirements when you fly to any country outside the EU (and, if Brexit happens, any destination outside the UK). It was in June 2015 that South Africa introduced the most stringent immigration rules in the world, requiring all under-18s to present an unabridged birth certificate at the departure gate. This was intended to reduce child trafficking. But it was taking such a toll on tourism that the rules were relaxed. However, passengers are still urged to carry the documents as immigration officers may request them and, since airlines face fines if they carry inadequately documented passengers, some gate staff may still insist on them.

Virgin told the Observer that there was a link to South African entry requirements on the e-tickets it sends to customers, but as you booked through Lastminute.com the format was different and the link not included. Lastminute says its website advises customers to check with an embassy or the Foreign Office before completing a booking. “Because we sell thousands of destinations we can’t provide country-specific information for each,” it says.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number. Submission is subject to our terms and conditions

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