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We have bought tickets via a travel agent. The flight was from US to country X via Canada. Upon check-in, 24 hours before the flight, I have learned that I have to have a transit visa if I am having a transfer in Canada. Hence, I couldn't check-in for my flight.

There are discussions about whether airlines are supposed to check for visas including transit visas but I couldn't find what are obligations of travel agents.

Can they just sell tickets and not inform travelers about any special requirements? Can they be liable if a traveler buys a ticket and is not properly informed about flight restrictions? I consider transit visas as flight restrictions because it restricts certain groups to take the particular flight and it has nothing to do with flights origin and destination.

Citizens of many countries need transit visas for Canada. I filled up a questionary and here what I got.

If you have less than 48 hours between flights AND you’re just transiting You need a transit visa. It lets you travel through a Canadian airport if your flight is making a stop in Canada (for less than 48 hours) on its way to another country.

A transit visa is free. The transit visa application is the same as the visitor visa application. Make sure you choose transit visa from the list of options on the form.

You don’t need an eTA.

Processing times vary by country. You may need to give your fingerprints and photo (biometrics) with your application. Processing time doesn’t include the time you need to give biometrics.

I also have learned that you need transit visa if you travel via US(visa C-1), Canada(visitor visa, transit visa or ETA depending on your nationality), Ireland, and maybe more.

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    Could you clarify your nationality, whether you are a US permanent resident (green card holder) and/or what other type of US visa you hold, which airline(s) you were supposed to be flying on, which airports you were due to transit through and how long you would have stayed in Canada? – jcaron Dec 28 '19 at 23:49
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    Yes they can sell you anything it is your responsibility to make sure you have the necessary papers to enter/transit at any destination, wether or not its good service is a different question – Matt Douhan Dec 29 '19 at 9:10
  • "whether airlines are supposed to check for visas" They are supposed to check to avoid transporting someone without a visa, but not for advising you. At the end of the day, it's the travellers responsibility to have proper docs. – Quora Feans Dec 29 '19 at 13:51
  • But they did inform you, didn't they? I'll bet it was written on your ticket in fine print. "You are responsible for your own visas/travel documents." or something to that effect. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 29 '19 at 18:39
  • How did you learn this, and why did you only learn it 24 hours before the flight? What prevented your learning it sooner? Did the agent tell you that you wouldn't need a transit visa, or did they just leave it to you to work out the logistics and legalities of your travel plan? – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 30 '19 at 23:05
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Check the documentation provided by your travel agent. I guarantee somewhere in there you'll find something that tells you it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct documentation for your entire trip, including any visas you might require for any part of the journey.

A good travel agent might volunteer information on what you require, and might even offer to assist you as a service, but the responsibility remains yours.

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This is most probably very dependent at least on:

  • The specific jurisdiction (country, state, economic zone...).
  • Whether the flight was sold alone or as part of a package (together with accommodation, usually, but in some jurisdictions other things like a rental car or activities may count)

In general, it is the traveller's responsibility to ensure they have all the required paperwork, especially as:

  • Each traveller's situation is unique. Citizenship, residency, any visas they have, travel history, type of passport, etc. all have an influence, and it can be quite daunting for a travel agent to know all the rules for everyone. Consider that in some cases, even prior travel history may have an influence (e.g. having travelled to some countries will disqualify travellers from ESTA and they must have a "real" visa instead).
  • Requirements change over time. Maybe at the time you booked all was well, and 2 weeks later country X decided that citizens of country Y suddenly need a visa. A travel agent can hardly track all of this.
  • Traveller situations vary over time as well. A passport expires. A visa expires. Residency changes. And so on.

It is usually expected from a good travel agent that they will inform their customers of requirements that are obvious to them. But even a good travel agent may not be aware of the requirements for everybody. If they are in country X, and all travellers with citizenship of that country don't require a visa to travel to/transit through country Y, then if a traveller from a different country needs a visa, they may not even know it. Most travel agents and airlines will actually inform passengers at length of the most obvious pitfalls, but they can't handle all possible cases.

In your case, I suppose the travel agent was in the US, so their "usual" traveller is probably a US citizen or US resident, who wouldn't need a visa to transit Canada (the US resident may need an ETA, though).

I'd be curious as to the specifics of your travel which would actually required a transit visa, though.

Now, there may be countries with different rules or regulations which require the travel agent to inform the traveller in an explicit manner (and not with a few lines in the middle of the small print) and/or check the traveller actually has the required paperwork, but I don't know one.

Rules may also be different for packaged holidays as opposed to "just flights".

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I am personally not aware of any laws, rules, or regulations that require a travel agency or airline to inform passengers at time of purchase about visa and other requirement (but it's possible that in your country or state their might be such a requirement). In my own experience, sometimes airlines or travel agents have done so, and other times they have not. Often, the itinerary and/or e-ticket receipt has a notation advising passengers to check the requirements for the countries they are entering or transiting, but these may be ignored by many passengers.

Your situation is unfortunate and certainly a horrible experience, and I hope the airline was able to reschedule or reaccommodate you after you obtained the transit visa.

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It's mentioned in the various documents which they provide you. Probably more than once. Probably emphatically.

At least one of those documents will be a contract. Contracts are an agreement between two people. ("People" potentially being a corporation). An agreement means you keep your word. They write the contract, but if you agree, it's your word. Obviously to keep your word you have to know what your word is, which obliges you to read the contract.

Of course in modern life you see long contracts on a daily basis - I just signed one when I installed a computer game - you signed one when you joined StackExchange. Or that book they give you with every prescription. It's overwhelming. Some people respond by not reading any paperwork at all, and just taking their chances.

I hate to say it, but this is that.

On one hand, if you were new travelers, the agent should have mentioned this more... but it may have slipped your mind among the many, many things discussed. On the other hand, if you live in an area where most flights to anywhere involve a bounce through North America, this is something you need to know.

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  • Not especially important for your broader point, but whether click-through licenses and shrink-wrap licenses and terms of service are contracts for various purposes is a very murky legal question, with a lot of variation by jurisdiction and specific facts. – Phil Miller Dec 30 '19 at 16:48

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