Reader KG sent me the following message:
I had booked a US Airways award ticket in business class for 90K per person. Our routing was IAH-IST-ZRH (open jaw), BRU-LHR-ICN-PEK (destination) – IAH. We flew the IAH-IST-ZRH legs. We arrived at the Brussels Airport but unfortunately were denied boarding. My wife holds an Indian passport and according to the airport officials needed a UK transit visa even though we were just changing planes and would be at LHR for 2.5 hours.
After we were denied boarding I tried to call US Airways to explain the situation but they said they couldn’t do anything to help re-route, etc (since travel had already commenced). At this point we just decided to visit Amsterdam and I booked a separate award ticket back to Houston. So my question is, do you think there is any point to trying to call or write to US Airways to see if they would return a portion of the miles or allow us to book the segments to/fro Beijing for a later date or do you think it would just be a wasted effort and my time would be better spent trying to accrue more miles? Thanks as always for your advice!
In a follow up message, KG explained that his boarding passes were issued without problem and then his wife was was actually denied boarding at the gate. Apparently the gate called UK immigration, but they didn’t let KG or his wife stand close enough to the phone so they could actually hear anything or talk to the immigration officers. When he asked them to call back they said they were only allowed to call once. Meanwhile he used another phone number to call UK immigration, and they told him that transit was fine as long as she had a Green Card.
US Airways doesn’t allow any changes to award tickets after departure
US Airways has among the most restrictive policies for award changes once travel commences. On paper they don’t let you make any changes whatsoever once travel commences, regardless of the reason.
In practice, US Airways sometimes lets you make changes after departure
So it’s extremely rare, though under severe circumstances I’ve been able to get them to change an itinerary after departure (not for my own travel, though). It may require hanging up and calling again, and for that matter only a supervisor would even consider making the exception. So I would ask for a supervisor immediately if trying to make a change after departure.
If you have a legitimate emergency or immigration issue they’re most likely to make an exception.
Ultimately it’s the passenger’s responsibility to check visa requirements
Most airlines will go over visa requirements for the countries you’re traveling to when booking your itinerary, though at the end of the day it’s the responsibility of the passenger to be sure they have the proper documentation.
One of the very best resources out there for checking visa requirements is the Star Alliance visa tool. It has you enter a few basic details of your trip, and will then let you know what you’ll need to travel.
Should KG’s wife have been denied boarding?
KG explained to me that he has transited the UK many times in the past on an Indian passport (before he got a US passport) and never had an issue, so he was surprised by this. So I was curious if he was just lucky in the past, or if they actually screwed something up here.
KG‘s wife is a permanent resident of the US on an Indian passport, so I entered that information into the Star Alliance visa tool:
When I enter that information, here’s the visa information I get:
TWOV (Transit Without Visa):
Visa required, except for Passengers who may be granted permission by the Immigration authorities to enter the United Kingdom, for a stay not exceeding 24 hours.
The following conditions must be complied with:
– passengers hold confirmed reservations for an onward flight within 24 hours; and
– continue to a third country; and
– have no purpose in entering the United Kingdom other than to
pass through in transit; and
– hold all documents required for the next destination.
– ***Warning*** Nationals of India may use this administrative concession (TWOV) above if holding:
– a valid U.S. I-551 Permanent Resident Card issued on or after April 21, 1998; or
– an expired I-551 Permanent Resident Card issued on or after April 21, 1998, provided accompanied by a valid I-797 letter authorising the extension, issued by the Bureau of Citizenship; or
– a stand alone U.S. Immigration visa Form 155A/155B
To be clear if she wasn’t a US permanent resident it would be totally different, but KG explained that they showed her Green Card and explained that to the agent.
So unless I’m missing something, I don’t believe KG‘s wife should have been denied boarding. She has a US permanent resident card, an Indian passport, and a 2.5 hour connection in the UK enroute from Belgium to China.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an expert when it comes to visas, so I’m curious if anyone has a different interpretation here? Am I wrong?
If she was incorrectly denied boarding, who is at fault?
Assuming she was incorrectly denied boarding, it’s not really US Airways’ fault that another airline denied her boarding. At the same time, it’s certainly not the passenger’s fault either.
If she was incorrectly denied boarding, someone needs to make things right, and I’ll certainly do what I can to advocate for KG. But this may very well be a cat-and-mouse game, since US Airways will blame Brussels Airlines, and I’m not sure Brussels Airlines will accept blame.
Anyone interpret the transit without visa policy differently? Who do you think is at fault?