Situation: My life partner is a South Africa citizen. We were booked to travel to Switzerland from South Africa with Emirates airlines on the 9th October 2020. According to the travel agents, VFS Global and the internet sites that one was directed to there was no reason why my partner could not travel to Switzerland with me.

At check-in in South Africa, my partners documents were found to be in order by at least 3 Emirates staff members and we were checked in for the flight JNB - DXB with connection DXB to ZRH.

The luggage was checked in under my name, boarding passes were issued for both legs of the flight and we were both allowed to board in South Africa with destination via Dubai (connecting) to Zurich.

At no time did anyone query my partners documents even after scanning in and checking the Docs on the IATA system. Visa was checked by 5 staff (2 airport security and 3 Emirates staff members)

In Dubai my partner was not allowed to board the plane for Zurich and we had to return to South Africa.

Is the airline not supposed to check these documents at port of departure? We're still not sure why she could not travel and just find it strange that the ticket was purchased Johannesburg to Zurich and we were checked in like that.

Could someone please advise at what point do the airlines need to take responsibility for their staff.

Had we been denied boarding in South Africa we could have postponed the trip in order to get whatever the issue was sorted.

Surely once they have accepted the documents to be in order, they cannot change their minds mid journey without taking some of the responsibility and at least covering the cost of flights.

Clarity on the matter would be great.


  • 2
    Welcome to Travel.SE. Passengers are always responsible for their own visas and other travel documents, so yes, an airline can and in this case obviously did deny boarding if they're not considered to be in order. Jan 11 '21 at 11:54
  • 21
    @Shaun O’Regan What specifically was said to be wrong with your partner’s travel documents at Dubai?
    – Traveller
    Jan 11 '21 at 12:15
  • 4
    Rules for entry can be very complex, and can be even more so these days with ever-changing COVID-related rules in addition to the usual visa requirements (or lack thereof). Even though airlines make every effort to check things at the point of origin, they are much more likely to get the rules right at the departure of a flight directly bound for the destination (where most passengers will have to abide by those rules) rather than at a remote airport where passengers will have a variety of different final destinations. But the final responsibility always remains with the passenger.
    – jcaron
    Jan 11 '21 at 12:28
  • If you're really Asking whether an Airline can board you at departure but refuse boarding for a connecting flight with the same airline on the same ticket, why are you also Posting so many details that appear irrelevant? Jan 11 '21 at 23:37
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    Without knowing why your partner was refused, it is literally impossible to know. If your partner got drunk and aggressive during the flight, for example, the airline may perfectly well refuse to carry them thereafter. If it was about their visa, we'd need to know what the reasons related to that visa were.
    – Graham
    Jan 12 '21 at 8:55

Surely once they have accepted the documents to be in order, they cannot mid journey change their minds without taking some of the responsibility and at least cost of flights.

Yes, they can.

When you bought the ticket, you agreed to airline's contract of carriage. See https://www.emirates.com/us/english/images/usa_published_november_2014_tcm272-194795.pdf section 7.1.1. perhaps.

In general it's always the passenger's responsibility to make sure that they have proper documentation for entering their destination (plus any transit location if applicable).

Unfortunately, COVID has made this way more difficult than it already was. Rules and regulations change frequently, are hard to understand, and are poorly documented, published, and communicated. As far as I can tell, Switzerland currently doesn't allow entry from a high risk areas (which includes South Africa). There are potential exemption mechanisms but they are complicated.

Your next step depends on WHY they denied your boarding. If your partner was indeed NOT eligible to enter Switzerland, they did what they had to do: If your partner would have showed up at the Swiss border and been refused entry, Emirates would have been fined a hefty fine and you would still have been stuck and turned around but even further away from home.

You could argue that the staff in JNB should have caught this already, but it's also not reasonable to assume that a field office is familiar with every Covid regulation in every possible destination. They probably just use Timatic or an internal data base, which have a hard time keeping up with the changes and the complexity of the rules. Dubai is Emirates' hub and you probably got checked by people who are fully up to speed on Swiss regulations.

In any case, it's YOUR responsibility to ensure you can legally enter your destination: the airlines checks documents as a service to you and to avoid fines, but they are not responsible nor can they make an entry decision.

Things are different, however, if your partner actually WAS eligible to enter Switzerland, and Emirates denied you boarding by mistake. That's called "Involuntary Denied Boarding" and you have quite a few rights in this case: refund, rebooking, alternative flights, delay/cancellation compensation (EU261), etc.

So I guess your next step would be to determine whether your partner was eligible to enter Switzerland or not. Here is the legal document that covers it https://www.admin.ch/opc/en/classified-compilation/20201773/index.html#id-ni2-2

  • 5
    Eu261 rules wouldnt apply here, as this is a non-EU airline flying into the EU.
    – Moo
    Jan 11 '21 at 18:20
  • 1
    Switzerland is not EU
    – naco
    Jan 11 '21 at 23:51
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    Switzerland is not EU but still covered by EU 261. See europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/…
    – Hilmar
    Jan 12 '21 at 1:00
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    @Hilmar Which of the reasons listed here do you think apply that this flight should be covered by EU261 regulations? As I understand it a non-EU airline flying into the "EU" is not covered here and I don't think Emirates would be considered an EU airline?
    – Voo
    Jan 12 '21 at 12:20
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    @Voo . Quote from my link "EU means the 27 EU countries , including Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin (French Antilles), the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland."
    – Hilmar
    Jan 12 '21 at 17:27

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