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VIC Travel Refusal Due to Damaged Passport

Discussion in 'Australian Consumer Law Forum' started by slats86, 4 February 2016.

  1. slats86

    slats86 Member

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    Hi, all.

    Not sure where to post or if anyone can help me but I seem to have exhausted my avenues in regards to complaints other than the ombudsmen so thought I would try here.

    I was due to fly to America on Christmas day with Air New Zealand and booked my ticket through Sta Travel.

    Went to check-in and the manager who served me at the check-in desk told me my passport was not valid for travel because there was minor damage to the passport. I was aware there was a slight wear and tear, but given I had traveled as early as two months prior to this trip, no-one had actually mentioned anything to me before so I did not really think anything of it.

    Anyway, so he called an immigration person who said that if it was damaged, I probably shouldn't fly (the immigration person didn't actually view it at this point). They gave me a card for reservations and sent me on my way.

    I was trying to change my flights with Air New Zealand, took them half an hour to tell me that Sta Travel had to change it. Couldn't get through to Sta Travel (took me 24 hours before I got to anyone) only for them to tell me they couldn't have changed it because it fell within check-in time and that it was the airlines responsibility.

    I thought the passport stuff was a load of bull so I went down to the immigration office and showed them the passport and they said it was fine. Went back to the desk to tell them and they said that the immigration person wasn't American so they wouldn't know. Was told if they let me through, I would get detained, possibly sent to Guantanamo bay and the airline would cop a 10k fine. Immigration told me that the airline had the final call on it, though.

    What's happened since then is that insurance won't cover me because I didn't have a valid travel document to fly. I had to pluck out a date in thin air to have my flights reinstated at the cost of 380 bucks (not to mention all the other cancellations and lost monies on bookings made). I've made complaints to Air New Zealand and the only contact I have had back was from some lady that never answers emails or phone calls and the check-in manager sending me an email saying why he denied travel.

    I've finally managed to pick a set of dates for when I want to fly again and have been told I have to fork out another almost 400 bucks for the dates I want.

    So a few questions I have for all this are:

    A) What process should airlines follow before refusing travel for bad documents?

    B) Should I be considered a no show which is what I was classed as despite being at the check-in more than 3 hours before the flight was due to depart, and I couldn't change my flights because no-one took the responsibility of changing them?

    C) Should I have been charged almost 400 dollars to have my tickets reinstated albeit that I had to re-book my flights for a specific date and was given 24 hours to make that decision, and now I have been told that I have to pay another 380 dollars to change the flights to the dates that I actually want. 1

    00 for Sta travel, 100 for Air New Zealand and 180 in fares and tax changes (the actual total flight is 300 dollars less than what I paid but apparently my booking class is not available (whatever that means because it's an economy ticket either way).

    D) Anything else I should be aware of under Australian Consumer Law?

    Thanks in advance if anyone can help me.
     
  2. TKC

    TKC Well-Known Member

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    I think the damage to a passport described as 'minor' doesn't support a decision to refuse travel. Especially if the damage did not affect the photograph nor the performance of the security chip that contains the personal information, which is the most important features.

    Nevertheless, there are ample warnings both on the booking information and check-in reminder emails provided by airlines of this standard, whom also communicate such details through the media. I acknowledge that in the two months prior, whilst travelling, your passport received no objections or raised interest. Perhaps the damage was therefore caused in the intervening period? A visit to your local passport issuing office might have been wise, in retrospect, especially if there was some damage to those important features mentioned.

    Airlines have full authority to refuse travel in such an instance, however, I think you made it easy for the manager to deny you a boarding pass and, therefore, travel, by not accepting full responsibility for lining up at the entry border in the USA. If USA customs had a problem with your passport they would certainly detain you, but only for the short period of scrutinizing your passport further. The close USA-AUS relationship would never have caused customs there to send you to GITMO. Australian Consular staff would have prevented such a drastic over-reaction, even if it reached such a stage.

    The insurance company are covered in this situation since the airline made their decision to refuse you travel by deeming your passport to be invalid, and, therefore, you "didn't have a valid travel document to fly" as would have been a condition in the insurance document you signed.

    A.) Since the onus is on the passport holder to provide an undamaged travel document, there is little the airlines can do to institute a process before refusing travel for "bad" documents, except perhaps for offering a second opinion or some such escalation mechanism to a higher authority. Given that you were dealing with the manager, perhaps that was the highest authority there on the day -- I don't know.

    Another thing they might institute is to provide the denied person a certain type of document outlining the exact problems they had with the passport as part of the refusal process. Especially since it is a big decision in terms of altering a person's travel arrangements, ultimately their destiny, even.

    B.) + C.) As you say you were there in advance of the flight departure, so the only reason why you would be classed as such, would be for their internal procedural systems. By being termed a "no show" is enough to understand that you simply weren't provided a boarding pass.

    In conclusion; it is standard operating procedure for airlines to demand a fee for rebooking your flight to another date, however, the fact that no one took the responsibility for changing your flight to another date on the day in question, shouldn't be the problem since you didn't know when that date would be, I believe you have said. Therefore, the question is whether 24 hours was a fair amount of time to solve the question of when you could attempt to fly to the USA again. This would be the same for all customers in that "booking class", I would imagine.

    The $400 dollars is, therefore, standard operating procedure, but since you didn't know when you could set the next date and now realized that 24 hours wasn't enough time, another fee of $380 dollars to get the dates you actually want, appears to be unfair and perhaps you might explain your objection to the airline as part of the predicament you experienced, in those terms.

    It seems like you were certainly rushed to some extent with having to set another date for travel, the adequacy of the passport being your responsibility, though. The airline is under no obligation to waive the $380 dollars in good grace since it represents what would be deemed as another "no show".

    Since you accept that there was some damage to your passport and since the airline was within their rights to refuse you travel and you didn't challenge them in your dealings with the manager on the day in question, it would appear you have little in the way of options and it's probably best to just cop-it-on-the-chin, enjoy your trip to the USA, and just accept that travel is always expensive and nearly always one spends more than they have budgeted for, and maybe just psych yourself up in such a way as the Gods are on your side prior to another call to the airline, request a supervisor or manager in explaining the situation with the $380, and hope they can be swayed.
     

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