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Some countries had weird rules, like Saudi Arabia. Recently, I purchased a tick to the US from Pakistan with a layover in Saudi Arabia. On the way out, it was a 11:30-hour layover and I had no issue. On the return flight, the layover was over 12 hours, hence supposedly I needed a transit visa for that.

To make things even worse, being a female passenger alone, Saudi Arabia does not issue transit visas to females alone, and even worse, they do not issue transit visas at all in the Hajj season, which is currently going on.

The problem is, it gets very complicated to find if you need a transit visa. The ticket does not say so. Further, visa requirements for each country are different. As as a side note, Internationally famous Pakistani Singer was deported from India (Hayderabad), just because Pakistani citizen cannot enter India via Hyderabad, which he learned the hard way after arriving in Hayderabad

In this case, we could have googled and found out but it was too late. Our return ticket could not be used and we had to buy another, more expensive, ticket. So my question is, isn't there any requirement for airlines (or ticket issuing authorities) to inform customers if they need a visa? With all the computerization and where every plan can be tracked online, I think this is not a difficult thing to do.

If every person starts calling the airline about their transit visa requirements, obviously call centers will be bombarded with calls, not to mention that in this case we called Saudi Airlines for support and no one bothered to pick up the phone in Islamabad and Peshawar (Pakistan). So in this technologically advanced world, the passenger is at the mercy of last-minute counter decisions. "Sorry, you can't board the plane because you don't have a visa". That information surely could have been communicated well in advance, when issuing the ticket.

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As you've noticed, visa rules can be extremely complicated, and there are often differences that hinge on very specific details. They're also subject to change at any time. As a result, virtually every airline disclaims all responsibility for visa requirements. For example, this from Delta's contract of carriage (most airlines have similar language, including Saudia):

Each passenger desiring transportation across any international boundary will be responsible for obtaining all necessary travel documents and for complying with all government travel requirements. The passenger must present all exit, entry and other documents required by the laws, and, unless applicable laws provide otherwise, shall indemnify the carrier for any loss, damage, or expense suffered or incurred by such carrier by reason of such passenger's failure to do so. Carrier is not liable to the passenger for loss or expense due tothe passenger's failure to comply with this provision. Carrier reserves the right to refuse carriage to any passenger who has not complied with applicable laws, regulations, orders, demands, or requirements or whose documents are not complete. No carrier shall be liable for any aid or information given by any agent or employee of such carrier to any passenger in connection with obtaining such documents or complying with such laws, whether given orally or in writing or otherwise

In other words, visas are entirely the passenger's problem, and even if someone from the airline helps you, they're still not responsible for providing accurate information. Also, if you cost them money because you don't have the required travel documents, the airline can make you pay for it.

Customer-hostile indeed, but no airline wants to be responsible for their passenger's visas, so that's the system they've created, and us wanting a better one isn't going to change anything. You can book through a travel agent, who may assist you in understanding visa rules, though there's no guarantee they'll provide accurate information either.

It's best to lookup visa rules on a country's official websites, usually that of their immigration department and/or the website of their consulate in your home country. You can also check the databases used by airlines for visa information: IATA's Timatic and the newer ICTS's TravelDoc. These are the systems that will be used at the airport check-in counter to see that you have the proper travel documents; you can consult them in advance before booking your flight to see what will be required.

For your example of a Pakistani singer being denied entry at Hyderabad, a check of Timatic would have revealed this rule before it was too late: "Nationals of Pakistan are only allowed to enter or transit through India if arriving at Chennai (MAA), Delhi (DEL) or Mumbai (BOM)."

The situation is simplified because many flights will transit common hub airports, where the visa policy is well-known (and less complicated than Saudi Arabia; few countries care about the passenger's gender or have seasonal bans). The Schengen area transit visa policy is a bit complicated, but applicable to many popular transit points, and the UK has a system to check if you need a transit visa. Add the fairly liberal transit visa policies of Istanbul and Dubai, plus Hong Kong, and the strict policy of the US (you must have documents to enter the US, even if you're just transiting), and you have the rules for many of the largest transit hubs in the world.

We also receive many "do I need a visa?" questions here at Travel.StackExchange, and if you have questions about some of the more complicated rules, you can come here and ask them before you book your ticket.

  • Thanks for the sharing the link. It is interesting that the first emirate link does not mention the 12 hour rule for Saudi Arabia. The second link (traveldoc) is more involved and I have not tried it yet. Obviously they give only surface information and cannot be fully relied. – Curious Traveler Jul 24 '18 at 7:59
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    @CuriousTraveler Ugh, the Emirates Timatic link doesn't give all the information. I updated it to a better one. Try doing a search that transits Saudi Arabia (not with SA as the destination, but as a transit point). It will say "Visa required, except for Passengers transiting through Dammam (DMM), Jeddah (JED) or Riyadh (RUH) with a confirmed onward ticket for a flight to a third country within 12 hours." – Zach Lipton Jul 24 '18 at 8:10
  • @CuriousTraveler But yes, Timatic only includes so much, and it's important to check the official information on country websites as well. – Zach Lipton Jul 24 '18 at 8:11
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    @ZachLipton Honestly, if some country's "official information" website said one thing and Timatic said another, I'd trust Timatic. Neither one's actually authoritative, but at least Timatic is run by people with a vested interest in the information being accurate. – Sneftel Jul 24 '18 at 12:23
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    @Sneftel The interests of the people running Timatic are less critical than the fact that it is the source the airline will use to determine whether the passenger can get on the plane. Even if Timatic is incorrect, which does happen from time to time (perhaps because they rely on those government officials whose interest in accuracy is perhaps weaker), the airline will follow it and therefore the passenger must also. – phoog Jul 24 '18 at 15:58
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And take care between possible discrepancies between IATA's Timatic and ICTS's TravelDoc : https://twitter.com/mica_jacobs/status/1123913055941873667

I've submitted this issue to Timatic and Traveldoc. I'll keep you posted if they reply.

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