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I had the worst experience of my life today during my (attempted and failed) holiday trip. Please advise me on what I can do next.

I am a citizen of a non-EU country (Kazakhstan). I live in London.

I booked a flight from London to Seoul with transit points in Milan and Rome (London - Milan - Rome - Seoul).

Upon landing in Linate Airport in Milan, I was stopped and detained because - as it turned out - there is no transit corridor at the airport, and the only way to get to a connecting flight is to leave the international zone and go through the security again.

Before purchasing the ticket, I checked whether I require a transit visa in Italy to get to a connecting flight, and by law I don't. I also checked the Linate airport official website, and I found no indication that there is no transit zone. Upon checking-in at the Heathrow airport, the airline staff also appear to not have been aware of this (otherwise, they wouldn't have let me on the plane). And obviously there was no mention, nor warning of this issue when I was booking the flight via netflights.com. This combination of flights was automatically suggested to me by the agency booking system.

I was detained and locked in a room for almost 8 hours and had to be escorted by security just to go to the bathroom. The airport staff were extremely rude, barely spoke any English and treated me as an illegal migrant. I had to be escorted by the police when they put me on the plane back to London and they wouldn't give me my passport until I landed in London.

As it appears to me, there was (practically) no way for me to find out that I would require a Schengen visitor visa (when I didn't even need the transit visa) just to change flights in Milan, and the agency failed to make a reasonable attempt to warn me about it.

Netflights.com refuse to compensate me in any way explaining that they already exchanged my ticket for my return flight to London (which I didn't ask for), and that it was my responsibility to "check and fulfill visa, passport and immigration requirements" which is fair but to me it appears that my situation is more nuanced than that.

Is there any chance to get my money back or make the agency arrange a new flight to Seoul at a later date at their expense? Or is it the airline's responsibility since they haven't turned me away at the check-in?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. The comments have been locked so no new comments will be accepted to this question. – Willeke Dec 15 '19 at 17:52
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You misunderstand. The lack of an international transit zone was not your problem. Even if there had been an international transit zone, you would not have been able to remain in it.

Your problem was that you had a flight from Milan to Rome. That is a domestic flight, and you must enter the Schengen area to board it. You do not leave the Schengen area until after you arrive at Rome, where you need to go through exit controls before you can board your flight from there to Seoul. (Entering the Schengen area, to be sure, means leaving the international zone.)

The same is true for any intra-Schengen flight whether it is domestic or not. For example, an itinerary from London to Frankfurt to Vienna to Seoul would be essentially the same because of the Frankfurt to Vienna flight.

There is no way, regardless of airport facilities, to transfer from an international flight to an intra-Schengen flight without going through the passport checkpoint.

You checked whether you needed an airport transit visa (ATV), and you do not need one. But an ATV is not sufficient for the itinerary you booked. Suppose you were from Afghanistan or any other country whose citizens need an ATV, and you did have an ATV: the same thing would have happened, because an ATV does not authorize you to go through passport control. To follow this itinerary, you need either a regular Schengen visa or a passport that allows you to enter the Schengen area without a visa.

As it appears to me, there was (practically) no way for me to find out that I would require a Schengen visitor visa (when I didn't even need the transit visa) just to change flights in Milan

Your research, very unfortunately, led you to an incorrect conclusion. Part of the reason for that is the source, which is unofficial. Unfortunately, I am also unable to find (quickly) an official source that is much clearer about the airport transit visa. If you go to the EU site, for example, you have to know that "transit through the international transit areas of airports of the Schengen States" is not good enough for your itinerary. There probably is an official site somewhere that says explicitly that such a visa does not suffice when there is an intra-Schengen flight, but it's not immediately obvious. I also looked on the site of the Italian embassy in London, and that was not particularly helpful, either.

Is there any chance to get my money back or make the agency arrange a new flight to Seoul at a later date at their expense? Or is it the airline's responsibility since they haven't turned me away at the check-in?

Unfortunately, airlines are very good at disclaiming this responsibility. And governments are also very good at disclaiming responsibility for failings in their public information materials. I doubt you will be able to recover anything, as unfair as that may be.

Some online visa-checking sites allow you to enter more than one leg of your flight at once. An example is https://www.traveldoc.aero/. Had you used this site, you would have seen that you needed a visa for Italy.

As pointed out in the comments, even traveldoc suggests that an airport transit visa would be sufficient for the itinerary, which is incorrect. Another commenter suggests turning to a question on this site: Do I need a visa to transit (or layover) in the Schengen area? Indeed, I have found no official government or airline-industry source that says clearly:

1. Are you flying within the Schengen area?

If your next destination is in the Schengen area, you must pass through passport control to get to that flight, so you need a regular Schengen visa unless you qualify for visa-free entry.

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    As it happens, there is a guide on this site that is pretty clear about whether the OP's itinerary would require a visa. – Michael Seifert Dec 12 '19 at 22:50
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    You might want to point out that it's not only domestic flights (Milan - Rome) that exhibit this problem, but any intra-Schengen flights. – gerrit Dec 13 '19 at 9:14
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    Please note that also TravelDoc seems to think an Airport Transit Visa should suffice: i.imgur.com/URTA6Sh.png – Alexander Dec 13 '19 at 9:37
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    This is correct (and upvoted) but the situation is slightly more complicated. Had the flight been Milan->Paris or for that matter Milan->Zurich (outside EU, in Schengen) the same problem would have arisen. IE the issue is not that Milan->Rome flight is domestic, but rather that it is intra Schengen. – abligh Dec 13 '19 at 10:01
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    @WGroleau I don't quite understand. You flew from the UK to Barcelona to Lisbon to the US without having your passport checked? – phoog Dec 13 '19 at 17:44
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The cause of your problem is that your route included an internal Schengen flight. This has nothing to do with there being (or not) a transit area in Linate. It is because of your Milan to Rome flight that you needed a visa, not to change planes in Milan.

Airports in the Schengen area are divided in two zones. Schengen, and non-Schengen. A flight from London to Linate will arrive in the non-Schengen zone, flights to Rome will leave from the Schengen zone. To pass between those zones you need to pass an immigration checkpoint, and it is there that you were stopped.

Had your transfer been between two international flights you might not have encountered this issue.

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    +1 This problem indeed applies to intra-Schengen flights, not just domestic in one country. A Milan-Paris connection would need a Schengen visa. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 12 '19 at 23:00
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    This is why I used the term "internal flight", which is what I believe the term the industry now uses. Rome - Paris is indeed the same as Rome - Milan where it comes to travel documents needed... LH offers US-India flights with a FRA-MUC transfer as part of the itinerary. Has caught quite a few Indians unaware. I do think that the airlines could handle this better. – Krist van Besien Dec 13 '19 at 8:09
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    I strongly agree that the airlines could handle it better. Even if they just added a note to itineraries that involve it. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 13 '19 at 8:41
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    I think it has to begin at the point of booking. When selecting an itinerary, it needs to say "Includes Schengen internal flight requiring Schengen entry". A passenger who would need a Schengen visa may pick a different itinerary. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 15 '19 at 3:14
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Transit is usually if you're not entering a country, to go onwards to another one. For international flights. Flying between two cities in Italy would be a domestic flight, and you'd need to be allowed into the country (ie have an appropriate visa). Like Almaty to Astana - everyone on the flight is legally allowed to be in the country, because at Astana (or in this case Rome) you're at a domestic terminal and could just walk off the plane into the city (and country).

I would feel that the airline is meant to check this as well, as they can get fined, but I suspect ultimately they're going to say it's the passenger's responsibility.

Awful that you were treated that way though :/ Although "barely spoke any English" is hardly their fault in Italy. :/

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    Thank you very much, I understand. And I appreciate it's not their fault for not speaking English but it was very frustrating in my situation... – Arthur Dec 12 '19 at 21:43
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    @Arthur If I were you I would check the airline’s T&C. It’s possible they might state that the passenger is liable not only for the costs of the return flight after being denied entry, but also for any fine imposed on the airline. – Traveller Dec 12 '19 at 21:50
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    Although "barely spoke any English" is hardly their fault in Italy. :/ Well, it was an international airport. where English is lingua franca. Customer facing personnel should know enough to get by. – Roger Dahl Dec 15 '19 at 6:25
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    @RogerDahl: these were policemen/border control agents. The people they process are not customers, but citizens. Of course, this does not excuse any rudeness from their part. – Quora Feans Dec 15 '19 at 19:26
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I don’t see any chance for a refund. It’s a passenger's responsibility to have all needed visas for a journey and you do need a Schengen visa for a Milan-Rome leg which is a domestic flight, and thus, you would have entered the Schengen zone.

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So sorry -- that sounds truly horrible.

It's reasonable to expect a passenger to be aware of and comply with all requirements for entering the country of their final destination.

It does not seem reasonable to expect a passenger to be able to spot that a leg in an automatically generated international flight includes a domestic flight that requires an additional visa. And I really don't think that many passengers would have. If you had purchased the legs of the trip individually, that would be a completely different matter, of course.

I'm certainly no lawyer, but generally worded disclaimers, like the one netflights.com is using as grounds for refusing to reimburse, cannot override laws and regulations related to consumer transactions. Under "good faith" laws, the consumer has the right to expect that rendered goods and services conform to what was purchased.

Booking an automatically generated international flight, I feel like it's reasonable for the customer to expect that the ticket will get them to the destination if they meet the requirements for entering the destination country. Unless very explicitly having been notified otherwise.

So the service you purchased, getting transport from A to B, had a serious issue with it, and it wasn't reasonable for netflights.com to expect you to be aware of the issue and accommodate for it.

Sadly, getting a lawyer involved doesn't seem like it would make much sense financially. But I think it would be worth contacting official agencies in the UK that concern themselves with matters of consumer protection and consumer rights with your story and see if they're interested in looking into it.

  • You can buy a ticket from an airline or an agency months in advance without giving them passport details (and thus travel authority documents) until days before the actual flight, so how is the airline or agency supposed to bear the responsibility here? The airline operated the flights purchased, there was nothing wrong with the service purchased. – Moo Dec 14 '19 at 21:22
  • If only this were true. Airlines and travel agents have absolutely no responsibility to the passenger to ensure that the passenger will be allowed to travel their chosen itinerary by the respective governments. The airline's responsibility is to those governments. It's always been the passenger's responsibility to ensure that he has the correct documents. The airline screwed up by allowing this person to board in the first place, and for that they will probably get a steep fine from the Italian government. It's not unheard of for airlines to try to recover these fines from such passengers. – Michael Hampton Dec 14 '19 at 22:26
  • @Moo there was nothing wrong with the service purchased: I feel like there was something wrong with the service. It came with an unusual, additonal requirement for use that was not disclosed and that the customer couldn't reasonably be expected to be aware of independently. – Roger Dahl Dec 15 '19 at 5:33
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    @RogerDahl and that is where your opinion differs from the norm that is international travel - the traveller is solely responsible for all visas, travel authorisations and permits involved in their journey. A large aircraft can have 350 passengers on board, that’s 350 potentially unique and individual situations for the purposes of immigration and transit, and the airline or travel agency might not even know anything about the actual traveller until the day of travel. That is why the traveller is responsible. – Moo Dec 15 '19 at 5:47
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    @RogerDahl and there’s nothing unusual here, at all. And I disagree that there is any responsibility on the part of the airline to communicate anything here - visas, travel authorities and permits are always the responsibility of the traveller. End of story. If you want the airlines to start giving legal advice, expect your tickets to cost significantly more, because that’s a shed load of additional liability they are picking up. – Moo Dec 15 '19 at 6:33
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Talk to a lawyer, or the Citizen's Advice Bureau. You might be able to sue them for selling you a defective product and refusing to give you a refund.

The Consumer Rights Act (2015) requires that all goods sold in the UK be of satisfactory quality, fit for the consumer's particular purpose, and as described by the seller, and further mandates that if they are not, then the consumer must have a period of at least 30 days within which they can reject the goods and ask for a refund or replacement.

Since the goods they sold you were no fit for your purpose, and when you asked for a refund, they have failed to give you one, they seem to be breaking the law. As such, talking to a lawyer about remedies seems to be a prudent course of action. The Citizen's Advice Bureau provides free legal advice on consumer rights issues, but you may want to pay for a lawyer instead.

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    Flights aren’t goods but services, the rules that apply are different. – jcaron Dec 15 '19 at 0:24

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