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BA denied wife & daughters boarding due incorrect use of Timatic

BA denied wife & daughters boarding due incorrect use of Timatic

Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:10 pm
  #1  
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BA denied wife & daughters boarding due incorrect use of Timatic

Dear FTers,

I have been reading with sadness the mounting evidence that BA are not the airline they once were, and have in recent times unnecessarily caused great inconvenience and distress to their customers through arbitrary rules (and rule changes), poor communication, and poor customer care.

Now I have a somewhat distressing example of my own.

I am a British Citizen who does a lot of business in South Africa; I write from Johannesburg. My wife is Chinese; we have two British Citizen children. It had been my plan for the last few weeks that they would join me here for half term (next week), flying out tonight. I bought their flights (WT out, Club back, total cost 7k). Whilst she has had an SA visa before, my wife's application for an SA visa has been a little problematic this time. In short: there is a newish eVisa system; the system generated an absurdly long list of documents required to be submitted including a certified translation of her father's death certificate (!). Yes this is for a short-term visit visa! I took advice from an SA immigration lawyer who said that this list of documents was totally wrong, and provided me with a letter to upload in place of the extraneous documents, saying they weren't called for in the law.

But anyway she didn't get the visa in time for her flight today. I had foreseen this possibility, and had a "plan B" up my sleeve, that I buy flights JNB to/from Mauritius (for where Chinese nationals don't require visas) for all of us, and they just stay airside whilst connecting, and I meet them in the departure lounge on the outbound. Whilst I thought this was quite a low risk plan, I did nevertheless (i) check Timatic (via the United website) - which confirmed that she didn't require a visa in this instance - and (ii) I ask the SA immigration lawyer when I spoke to her if my wife can transit JNB without a visa in this case, to which she replied "yes of course". (As many FTers will know, a South African national would not be afforded the same privilege transiting Heathrow - hence I asked).

So, everyone can see coming what happened next. My wife gets to Terminal 5, goes to the visa check desk, and the agent there (name S#####) said she couldn't board as she needed an SA visa. My wife called me, and passed the phone to the agent. I explained that I had checked on Timatic, and that it was very clear that she didn't need a visa. The agent replied that in the case when the second booking is not on BA (the flights I booked - and for which my wife presented boarding passes at LHR - were with Air Mauritius), they have to treat it as a JNB arrival. I protested that this was complete nonsense; Timatic does not state this, and it is a totally arbitrary fabrication. The agent also raised that it was quite a long layover (in fact, just over 4 hours) as a further issue. She further stated that she had checked with the relevant BA department, who had said that my wife could not travel. I asked for the agent's surname, which she refused to provide, and likewise payroll number, which she likewise refused. She said her role was a "CSR".

I checked again on Timatic (via United website - screen shots attached) which again showed that my wife did not require a visa. I sent those screen shots to her, and suggested she return to the agent and show them. Unfortunately time was now running down to conformance - only 7-8 minutes left. She spoke - as in turn did I - to another, this time male agent to whom I explained the situation. His mind seemed a little more ajar to the possibility that a mistake may have been made, but ultimately re-iterated that "Flight Control" had said that my wife couldn't fly, and gave me the name of the representative they had spoken to (V####). They said that my wife (and two children, I should reiterate) had been offloaded, and soon the conformance time had passed. I asked for his name, which he refused to provide ("I do not need to provide my name").

I tried to book them seats on the later Virgin flight (2230 vs 2125 for this BA flight), but no seats were available, and I could find (at that late hour) no bookable seats to Mauritius for this evening.

What has followed in the last hour or so has been rather extreme distress on the part of my two young children - they have been rolling around on the floor of T5 wailing that they want to see their daddy, and my wife has been crying too. Various BA staff members have come over and offered to help; one of them (when my wife explained the situation) opined that her colleagues had clearly got it wrong - although of course one can't know if that should be taken at face value, or if it is a merely a well-intentioned attempt to diffuse the situation.

Obviously, my thoughts turn now to what to do next - which, in order, are (i) get my family to MRU and (ii) recover losses. I think, in light of this (and the enormous schedule reliability issues on the JNB route (and I suppose other A380 routes)), I have no desire that they fly BA via JNB. My relevant costs are:
BA flights LHRJNBLHR wife & kids - 7k
BA seat selection 500 (wife is blue!)
MK flights JNBMRUJNB self, wife & kids - 1700
Hotel MRU (non-refundable) - 1700
Total - ~11k

The one thing I haven't done as yet is scour BA's Conditions of Carriage to see what light they shed (if any) on the matter at hand - will do that now.

I just remembered that once, shortly after we got married, we flew LHR-DUS with BA to connect with a Cathay flight to HKG (and thence to China), and my wife didn't have a Schengen visa then. There were no problems. (Even there was no airside transit from the gate at which the BA flight arrived - we just explained the situation to the German border police officer, and he let her through without stamping her passport)!

The advice of the FT community would be greatly welcomed. Unlike others, I will be grateful for the advice I receive, and report back on developments.

Thanks all.
BTP


Timatic (Via United) - o/w LHR-MRU, CN passport, UK residence

Timatic (Via United) - o/w LHR-MRU, CN passport, UK residence - connecting via ZA
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:18 pm
  #2  
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Crikey sorry for this distressing experience. Whilst I can’t comment on the visa / denial issues, wouldn’t the direct LGW MRU service have been an option to avoid a lot of hassle and not even touching down in SA?
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:21 pm
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I’m sorry for the stress your family experienced. If I understood you correctly, the flight from JNB to Mauritius was on a separate ticket? If yes, then BA did what airlines usually do in this case - they treated their ticket as a separate contract and treated JNB as the destination point wanting to see a visa. This is a very frequent reason for denied boarding for visa nationals on all airlines.

I know it is upsetting, and a lot of people have complained before that airlines do not take into account separate tickets for travel out of the transit country, but this is how airlines protect themselves against large fines imposed by the governments on them for bringing people with incorrect documents. What you read on Timatic would have applied had your family been traveling on a single ticket.

BA do say that one must have proper documents for the final destination, and the final destination on their ticket was JNB.

Last edited by Andriyko; Oct 20, 2023 at 5:32 pm
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:30 pm
  #4  
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Originally Posted by Andriyko
Im sorry for the stress your family experienced. If I understood you correctly, the flight from JNB to Mauritius was on a separate ticket? If yes, then BA did what airlines usually do in this case - they treated their ticket as a separate contract and treated JNB as the destination point wanting to see a visa. This is a very frequent reason for denied boarding for visa nationals on all airlines.

I know it is upsetting, and a lot of people have complained before that airlines do not take into account separate tickets for travel out of the transit country, but this is how airlines protect themselves against large fines imposed by the governments on them for bringing people with incorrect documents. What you read on Timatic would have applied had your family been traveling on a single ticket. BA do say that one must have proper documents for the final destination, and the final destination on their ticket was JBN.
Yes, on separate ticket.

I am just scouring their conditions of carriage for this now

Thanks
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:38 pm
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I think that sadly for you, BA will be in their right. They have your wife on a ticket from the UK to SA, and that means they have to check that your wife has the right to enter SA. You can scour their CoC as much as you want, the ticket to Mauritius doesn't concern them. If your wife were to stay stuck in SA (or attempt to get in without a valid visa), BA would be fined for not checking the entry requirements.
Changed my mind after re-reading Timatic.
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Last edited by alex67500; Dec 4, 2023 at 5:13 am
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:53 pm
  #6  
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Thanks for the rapid responses

So I have checked the BA CoC and the following appear to be salient terms:13a) General

13a1) You (not us) must:
  • check the relevant entry requirements, including government health policies and requirements for any country you are visiting and ensure that you meet all applicable entry requirements, including health mitigation measures and
  • present to us all passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents needed for your journey.
13a2) You must obey all laws, regulations and orders of any countries you fly from, enter or travel through or in which you are a transit passenger.

13a3) We will not be liable to you if:
  • you do not have all necessary passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents
  • your passport, visa, health certificates or other travel documents are invalid or out of date or
  • you have not obeyed all relevant laws.
13b) You must present to us valid passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents

Before you travel, you must present to us all passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents you need for your journey. If we ask, you must:
  • allow us to take and keep copies of them and
  • deposit your passport or equivalent travel document with a member of the crew of the aircraft for safe custody until the end of the flight.

13(a)(1) appears to be key clause - it requires passengers to "meet the entry requirements of any country you are visiting" and "present all documents needed for journey". Of note, none of the key words here are defined within the CoC - so they therefore have their ordinary meanings.

I would therefore argue that my wife was not "visiting" South Africa, but merely transiting, and hence she had no duty to meet South Africa's entry requirements. Furthermore, she did present all of the documents needed for her "journey", which comprised a flight to JNB, an airside transit, then a flight to MRU.

I didn't find any clause that had the effect that "all terms must be construed solely within the BA ticket", but will re-check now
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 5:56 pm
  #7  
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Originally Posted by mikeyfly
Crikey sorry for this distressing experience. Whilst I cant comment on the visa / denial issues, wouldnt the direct LGW MRU service have been an option to avoid a lot of hassle and not even touching down in SA?
Thanks form the reply, Mikey

Well the thing it, I had already booked the flights to/from JNB. I didn't see what would be the "cost of change" to re-book LGWMRU, in part because (if her SA visa comes through next week) we might have spent a day or two in JNB.
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:08 pm
  #8  
 
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Originally Posted by BTP
I didn't find any clause that had the effect that "all terms must be construed solely within the BA ticket", but will re-check now
You probably won’t find those specific words, but you would find the following:

You, your - any person holding a ticket who is to be carried or is carried on an aircraft, except members of the crew, or, in relation to ticket refunds, the person who paid for the ticket.

Ticket - either a document called 'Passenger ticket and baggage check' or an electronic ticket, which we or our authorised agents have issued to you.

Together they read that your journey is one on a ticket issued by BA, and you must have proper documents for such journey.

I am not saying that you are necessarily wrong, all I did in the first reply was to share that this happens a lot and explain why it happens.

I hope you’ll see your family soon. This is not a pleasant situation.
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:09 pm
  #9  
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Originally Posted by Andriyko
BA do say that one must have proper documents for the final destination, and the final destination on their ticket was JNB.
So actually (as far as I can see) this is not at all what tthe BA CoC say - rather, they say you have to meet the entry requirements "for any country you are visiting", where "visiting" has no special definition within the CoC.

They might try to argue that it follows that if you buy a ticket to fly to country X then you are "visiting" that country, but I would dispute that. As my wife's case shows, and indeed perfectly ordinarily, one might buy a ticket to country X solely for the purpose of transiting airside, and thence not "visit" that country at all.

Thanks again for the response, Andriyko. Do tell me if I am missing something.
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:12 pm
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You appear to have skipped over Clause 2: “these conditions of carriage will apply to all flights we operate under the BA airline designator code and to any case where we have a legal liability to you in relation to your flight.”

Why do you think BA should take account of, or have any legal liability in relation to, a separate contract you have with a different airline?
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:25 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by Cotswold Eagle
You appear to have skipped over Clause 2: these conditions of carriage will apply to all flights we operate under the BA airline designator code and to any case where we have a legal liability to you in relation to your flight.

Why do you think BA should take account of, or have any legal liability in relation to, a separate contract you have with a different airline?
Hi CE,

I did read that clause, but didn't (and don't) see the applicability to the case at hand.

In essence you have put three substantive points on the table (two via your quoting of the BA CoCs and one of your own):
1. "These conditions of carriage will apply to all flights we operate under the BA airline designator code..." - this seems to me just to mean they apply to codeshares, not just "BA metal"
2. "...and to any case where we have a legal liability to you in relation to your flight" - looks to me that this just covers e.g. IRROPS where they book pax on another carrier
3. "Why do you think BA should take account of... a separate contract you have with a different airline" - because it is relevant to fulfilling the terms of my contract with BA! (Actually it's my wife in this case).

Re (3), take an example of where a destination requires proof of accommodation as an entry requirement (in fact, MRU does). Then the airline may require to see a hotel booking - or, put another way, a contract between the pax and another company (in this case, a hotel).

Thanks again for taking time to read my saga and reply - it's sincerely appreciated. I have already learned some new stuff tonight.

BTP
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:32 pm
  #12  
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Originally Posted by Andriyko
You probably wont find those specific words, but you would find the following:

You, your - any person holding a ticket who is to be carried or is carried on an aircraft, except members of the crew, or, in relation to ticket refunds, the person who paid for the ticket.

Ticket - either a document called 'Passenger ticket and baggage check' or an electronic ticket, which we or our authorised agents have issued to you.

Together they read that your journey is one on a ticket issued by BA, and you must have proper documents for such journey.

I am not saying that you are necessarily wrong, all I did in the first reply was to share that this happens a lot and explain why it happens.

I hope youll see your family soon. This is not a pleasant situation.
Thanks for your kind comments, they are sincerely appreciated; as is the broader context you gave (which I didn't really know).

I think it's a bit of a leap to say that the couple of lines you quoted imply the "journey" means only that which is as per the BA ticket. The "you, your" definition is just a usual term to define the one of the parties to the contract, and the "ticket" definition just seems (to me) to make sure that electronic tickets have the same contractual force as old school paper tickets.

Thanks again,
BTP
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:38 pm
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It seems the United site produces a truncated, user-friendly version of Timatic. Here is a more comprehensive read-out from ExpertFlyer:

Originally Posted by timatic
Summary
Conditional, The traveler will need to hold travel documents as detailed below.
Mauritius - Destination Passport
Passport required.

Document Validity

Passports and other documents accepted for entry must be valid for the period of intended stay.

Admission and Transit Restrictions

Visitors must hold return/onward tickets.

Warning

Passengers must complete the "Mauritius All-In-One Travel Form" at
https://safemauritius.govmu.org/
before departure or upon arrival.
For more information contact the Airport Health Office at
[email protected]
or visit
https://health.govmu.org/
.
Mauritius - Destination Visa
Visa required.

Visa Exemptions

Nationals of China (People's Rep.).
Passengers with a Hong Kong (SAR China) passport.
Passengers with a Macao (SAR China) passport.

Additional Information

Visitors must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay (a minimum of USD 100.- per day) and a confirmed hotel booking.
Passengers traveling as tourist are granted a maximum stay of 180 days per calendar year.
Passengers traveling on business are granted a maximum stay of 120 days per calendar year, with a maximum of 90 days per visit.

Warning

Visitors must have a return/onward ticket.
Mauritius - Destination Health
Vaccinations not required.
South Africa - Transit Passport
Passport required.

Document Validity

Passports and other documents accepted for entry must be valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the period of intended stay.

Warning

Passengers in transit are subject to a check by immigration. They must hold passports or other documents accepted to enter South Africa.
Visitors with a machine readable passport which has been extended or modified in any way are not allowed to enter or transit South Africa.
Passports must be machine-readable to enter and transit.
South Africa - Transit Visa
Visa required.

Visa Exemptions

Passengers with a Hong Kong (SAR China) passport for a maximum stay of 30 days.
Passengers with a Macao (SAR China) passport for a maximum stay of 30 days.

TWOV (Transit Without Visa)

Passengers transiting through Cape Town (CPT) with a confirmed onward ticket for a flight to a third country on the same calendar day. They must stay in the international transit area of the airport and have documents required for the next destination.
Passengers transiting through Johannesburg (JNB) with a confirmed onward ticket for a flight within 24 hours to a third country. They must stay in the international transit area of the airport and have documents required for the next destination.
Passengers transiting through Lanseria (HLA) with a confirmed onward ticket for a flight to a third country. They must stay in the international transit area of the airport and have documents required for the next destination.

Additional Information

Visa labels starting with control numbers B0028 and B0029 are fraudulent. Holders of these visa labels contained in their passport or other official travel document will be refused entry.
Pure speculation: assuming your wife has a Chinese passport rather than a Hong Kong/Macau passport, the agent probably looked at the Visa Exemptions section for South Africa above and saw that none applied to your wife. Not reading the following section on Transit Without Visa.

My reading of this is that production of the onward ticket on Air Mauritius should have been enough to satisfy the requirement in red above.

Ill leave it to others to debate the CoCs and whether transit covers only connecting tickets sold by the same entity or whether an onward ticket could be a separate document.

Sorry to hear about the situation your family face and hopefully you are all reunited soon.
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:43 pm
  #14  
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Originally Posted by alex67500
I think that sadly for you, BA will be in their right. They have your wife on a ticket from the UK to SA, and that means they have to check that your wife has the right to enter SA. You can scour their CoC as much as you want, the ticket to Mauritius doesn't concern them. If your wife were to stay stuck in SA (or attempt to get in without a valid visa), BA would be fined for not checking the entry requirements.
Hi Alex, thanks for reading and for sharing your insights.

As I wrote above, I would argue that the CoC do not require that my wife has the right to enter SA. But as to your example of my wife getting stuck or attempting to get in without a visa, isn't this the case with every airside transit in which the transit pax requires a visa for the country in which they are transiting? And yet millions of pax make such transits all the time. So, in other words, I don't really see that the liability you argue that BA have to protect themselves against, is any different to one which is accepted by airlines all over the world thousands of times a day. Unless I am missing something (which is very possible as it is late, and I have had a draining last few hours!).
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Old Oct 20, 2023, 6:53 pm
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TWOV is exactly what it says. BA has to confirm that the requirements for TWOV are met, not more or less. And it seems in this case, the OP's wife did, indeed, fulfil the requirements -- BA can't plead ignorance of intent, since at one point, one of the objections raised was the length of the airside transit.

This is indeed a mess-up by BA. Similar debacles have happened for TWOV to China (where, due to the nature of the transit, which allows time landside, booked two separate tickets is almost a de rigeur requirement).

Sadly, however, I doubt BA will cough up 11 grand...one can dream I suppose.

tb
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