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I am a Swiss resident denied boarding on return flight to Switzerland from US

I am a Swiss resident denied boarding on return flight to Switzerland from US

Old May 25, 20, 1:38 am
  #1  
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I am a Swiss resident denied boarding on return flight to Switzerland from US

I am a British national living (was working) in Switzerland and have a Swiss residence permit.

I travelled to San Diego on the 28th February for a 1 month break (BA ticket: GVA->LHR->SAN). I was supposed to return on the 1st of April.

Over the past few months as COVID ramped up my return itineraries through BA became increasingly extreme (e.g. SAN->ORD->LHR->DUB->GVA), and, as a result have continuously had legs cancelled and required rebooking. A combination of agreeing to wait for the situation to calm down and cancellations (over 6 itinerary cancellations now) meant I never had an option to fly back through my BA ticket until recently.

A few days ago I was informed that my DUB->GVA leg had yet again been cancelled and as a result BA and its partners had no way of getting me back to GVA. However, they cited a recent mutual agreement they have set up with Swiss allowing them to book me through Swiss for the LHR->GVA leg. I jumped on the opportunity and agreed to be rebooked on a flight departing this morning SAN->ORD (AA) ORD->LHR (BA) LHR->GVA (Swiss).

I was aware that Switzerland has blocked entry for visitors and is only allowing in Swiss nationals and residents. I did not bring my physical residents permit with me as I travelled before these measures were put in place - hindsight 20/20... Because of this, I emailed the Swiss 'service de la population' and asked whether a photocopy of my residents permit would suffice to get back into the country. They confirmed that this was ok and the border agent would be able to check my credentials against my passport using SYMIC.

Arriving at the airport this morning I went to check in with AA. I was asked if I was a Swiss resident, I confirmed and showed my photocopy and residents number. The gate agent asked me to hang on so she could just double check with her colleague if a digital copy was ok. This was escalated up to their supervisor and then some global helpdesk. Conclusion: AA's policy is that unless you have a physical copy: no flying. I produced the letter from SPOP showing Swiss border control's confirmation that it was not required by them. They escalated again: still no.

All in all I spent about 2h30 at the airport going back and forth between AA and BA with no resolution. Eventually I missed my flight and was told by BA that the best they could do for me was a paid ticket change to get me to London then figure out the Geneva leg myself. However, BA ticketing office was closed for the day so they can't do that until tomorrow. AA offered nothing other than suggesting I drive 3h to LAX and try get a flight from there...

I am still stuck in San Diego. My ESTA will expire in 4 days. BA have promised to call me back tomorrow morning when BA & AA ticket offices are both open to try and help me out. I am fortunate that the BA agent is great and really seems to be trying to help me out (I am greatly appreciative of him). Unfortunately, it sounds like this will be a paid change for $1k-$2k and might only get me as far as London!

I know it's a crazy time with COVID but how can an AA deny me boarding, enforcing stricter requirements than Swiss border control? Surely they should be required to inform me in advance if they do... Am I tough out of luck here? If I'd known this I could have just had my damn physical permit sent to me 2 months ago but assumed confirmation from SPOP would be adequate. As a side note, my brother travelled from LHR to GVA during these same restrictions without the physical copy and had no issues.
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Old May 25, 20, 2:16 am
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I'm not sure I can offer anything you have not already tried, but I would hope that your travel insurance pays for the new ticket. Maybe give them a heads up now and explain the situation.
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Old May 25, 20, 2:23 am
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Being a former Swiss resident myself, I say the fault is on you for not taking your residence permit with you in the first place. You can always be spot checked for it at any time at the border or anywhere within Switzerland (regardless of COVID).

Your situation now is unfortunate but you canít really blame AA or any airline for your error... theyíre required to ensure you have proper documentation to cross the border at your destination, and currently you donít.

Best of luck
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Old May 25, 20, 2:44 am
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Originally Posted by LondonElite View Post
I'm not sure I can offer anything you have not already tried, but I would hope that your travel insurance pays for the new ticket. Maybe give them a heads up now and explain the situation.
Thanks for the suggestion I'll check if anything there.

Originally Posted by Continited View Post
Being a former Swiss resident myself, I say the fault is on you for not taking your residence permit with you in the first place. You can always be spot checked for it at any time at the border or anywhere within Switzerland (regardless of COVID).

Your situation now is unfortunate but you canít really blame AA or any airline for your error... theyíre required to ensure you have proper documentation to cross the border at your destination, and currently you donít.

Best of luck
Of course in hindsight I wish I'd just taken the permit with me but its not the case that its required (pre-COVID or now). See https://www.ch.ch/en/travelling-abroad/ for EU/EFTA citizens living in Switzerland. As mentioned in my post, SPOP confirmed to me that even now they do not need a physical copy of my permit on arrival in Switzerland so I do have proper documentation to cross the border. (Also my brother crossed without any issue). The challenge here is that AA is wary of being fined so have set their policy as mandatory physical permit required before allowing boarding. Thanks for the wishes though - guess I will be taking it always in the future just in case .
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Old May 25, 20, 3:23 am
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If anyone has access to your residency card in CH, they could courier it to you - a couple of days at most to get it.
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Old May 25, 20, 4:26 am
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This is when I don't mind having my residency permit stuck in my passport. As WilcoRoger said, does anyone have access to your apartment where they could get your residence card and express it to you in the US? This seems the only "easy" solution.
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Old May 25, 20, 4:38 am
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Originally Posted by jampoco View Post

Am I tough out of luck here?
Swiss borders with Germany, France and Austria will re-open for everyone on 15 June.
Not sure if you can wait that long, but thought you should know.

Maybe fly to UK, and wait a while there.
Swiss still has flights between London and Zurich, and might be less strict as it's just a short haul flight.
I would at least try to get to the UK if I were you and take it from there.
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Last edited by est-gratuite; May 25, 20 at 4:57 am
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Old May 25, 20, 4:53 am
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Originally Posted by est-gratuite View Post
Maybe fly to UK, and wait a while there.
That would have been a wise choice even months ago, IMO. Seems odd to wait it out in the USA, and only accept a trip USA-somewhere-SWITZERLAND, when USA-UK has been available to OP all along.
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Old May 25, 20, 5:14 am
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Yes absolutely, fly to UK asap and from there easy to get to CH.
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Old May 25, 20, 5:44 am
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I did not bring my physical residents permit with me as I travelled before these measures were put in place
AA was right to deny boarding.

Two options:
Fly to the UK (you are an UK citizen).
Or get your Residence Permit per courier to you in the US.
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Old May 25, 20, 5:47 am
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Originally Posted by Continited View Post
Being a former Swiss resident myself, I say the fault is on you for not taking your residence permit with you in the first place. You can always be spot checked for it at any time at the border or anywhere within Switzerland (regardless of COVID).
Being a current Swiss resident, I rarely carry my Swiss residency permit when I travel. Twice, it's expired while I've been abroad and have picked up the new one on my return., The border guards most definitely can see all the permit details when scanning my (non-Swiss) passport. The issue here isn't Switzerland but the airline. The end result is the same, and I may re-think my attitude.

It's also not compulsory to carry any ID within Switzerland, although this can cause issues if you're asked to prove your identity as it means you'll be taken into custody until you're able to provide such proof. Due to this, it's advisable to carry something.
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Old May 25, 20, 5:57 am
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How about a solution via the local Swiss Embassy/Consulate? They might issue you a temporary permit or official document?
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Old May 25, 20, 6:39 am
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Originally Posted by adrianlondon View Post
Being a current Swiss resident, I rarely carry my Swiss residency permit when I travel. Twice, it's expired while I've been abroad and have picked up the new one on my return., The border guards most definitely can see all the permit details when scanning my (non-Swiss) passport. The issue here isn't Switzerland but the airline. The end result is the same, and I may re-think my attitude.

It's also not compulsory to carry any ID within Switzerland, although this can cause issues if you're asked to prove your identity as it means you'll be taken into custody until you're able to provide such proof. Due to this, it's advisable to carry something.
What you say is indeed true, however it is simply silly not to carry your residence permit with you during international travel, as it proves your right to enter the country and distinguishes you among other travelers. I was traveling abroad on a roughly bi-weekly basis when I lived there and always carried it with me with my passports... and several times I was asked for it, both inside Switzerland (even on local trains intra-Switzerland) and also abroad when trying to check-in for flights (particularly when transiting the USA from a third country origin).

Airlines donít necessarily know what the border agents can or canít see in your destination country. They are simply given a list of required documents to prove your eligibility to enter the country, and either you have them, or you donít. While the OP may have arranged a workaround here directly with the Swiss border agents, the airline still has its set guidelines that they have to adhere to. You canít fault them for that.
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Old May 25, 20, 6:40 am
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I am wondering why the suggestion to drive to LAX and catch a BA flight to LHR is not acceptable?

Is BA also requiring a physical residency permit in order to fly on their plane to LHR and could BA do the routing change without making you pay the change fee? Or am I being too naive here
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Old May 25, 20, 7:51 am
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Originally Posted by Continited View Post
What you say is indeed true, however it is simply silly not to carry your residence permit with you during international travel, as it proves your right to enter the country and distinguishes you among other travelers. I was traveling abroad on a roughly bi-weekly basis when I lived there and always carried it with me with my passports... and several times I was asked for it, both inside Switzerland (even on local trains intra-Switzerland) and also abroad when trying to check-in for flights (particularly when transiting the USA from a third country origin).
I've been asked once in the 10 years I've lived here. Didn't have it. They (border agent at BSL) appeared to type my passport number into some system and then smiled and waved me in. I must look trustworthy
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