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For a flight from Zurich, Switzerland to Johannesburg, South Africa, the gate personell requires people to have their passport checked before boarding at a special counter. This happens for apparently all flights on this route, but I haven't seen it from EU airports (e.g. FRA or AMS) to South Africa.

This seems odd to me: the passport is already checked at check-in (which of course may not happen for all passengers at the counter due to online check-in), and at the Schengen to international border. I've seen combined boarding&passport checks before, but it usually happens just passing through, not with a separate counter.

What's the reason for this check? Is it a special treaty between Switzerland and South Africa, making it different to a Schengen-member to South Africa flight?

  • Which airline? It may be an airline specific routine. E.g. Ryanair has, or at least used to have, a similar 'extra' travel document check even on intra-schengen routes. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Apr 7 at 21:20
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    With on-line check in you can reach the gate with no airline employee seeing your passport & visa. Airlines get fined for landing people without the correct passport & visa so some airlines are more diligent than others. Airlines that consistently fail to check documents will be required by the immigration authorities to improve their performance. – canonacer Apr 8 at 6:31
  • Airline is Swiss. – stefan Apr 8 at 7:06
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As commented by canonacer, in most cases, airlines are required to check whether passengers are allowed prima facie to enter the destination country. If they fly someone to the destination, and they get denied entry, the airline may be fined, and will have to carry the passenger back on their dime.

So they have every reason to check that the passenger has either a passport that allows entry without a visa, or that they have a valid passport and the relevant visa.

Documentation can only be verified at the check-in desk for those that use it. Passengers with no checked luggage, or which use automated bag drops (not sure if those exist for Swiss in ZRH?) will not see an airline employee until they reach the gate.

Checks at passport control (by a border guard) are only for exiting the Schengen Area / Switzerland, they don't care if you are allowed in the destination country (they usually don't care at all where you go, actually).

So the only point where travel documents can be checked by the airline (or a third party doing it for them) for all passengers is at the gate.

For some destination countries, passengers have to enter information online in advance (Advance Passenger Information, or API / APIS), which may simplify things at the gate (just have the check that the documents match what was entered, not that the documents actually allow entry, as that should have been determined automatically earlier).

Depending on the mix of citizenships usually observed by the airline, they may know that most passengers are easy to check (just checking the passport is enough), or that it's often more complex (visas need to be checked), in which case they may set up a specific procedure for this.

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