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Note regarding reopening votes: I've significantly improved the question based on the comments.


A passenger takes the flight: airport XXX in country A -> airport YYY in country B -> airport ZZZ in country C. The passenger is allowed by countries A, B, and C to exit/re-enter the airport YYY during their layover at airport YYY (which implies that country C is ok with the passenger leaving and re-entering the transit area in country B before flying+entering country C).

In that situation, can an airline prevent a passenger from boarding the plane during a layover because they left the transit area of airport YYY (e.g., to visit the nearby city)?


Note: This is not a theoretical question. A customer support employee from some airline was claiming that the passenger was not allowed to exit/re-enter the airport YYY during their layover at airport YYY, even though the passenger was satisfying all the regulations of countries A, B, and C to exit/re-enter the airport YYY. This made me wonder whether an airline can prevent a passenger from exiting/re-entering the airport during a layover and/or prevent the passenger from boarding the flight because they exited/re-entered airport YYY, or that simply the customer support employee was confused over the admittedly sometimes very confusing COVID-19-related traveling regulations.


Answer to comments:

  • This question is so vague as to be unanswerable. Rules vary around the world, and COVID just serves to complicate things. Perhaps you could cite your actual source instead of 'A customer support representative of some airline'. – Gaspode the Indomitable 10 hours ago 

The question is not vague and is not country-dependent: the question precisely asks whether an airline prevent a passenger from boarding the plane during a layover because they left and re-entered the transit area / the airport.

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    In my understanding, the airline's jurisdiction does not extend to the airport. But, indeed, COVID possibly mucks things up, as, in certain countries, certain rules might apply if you do not stay in transit, conflated by the travellers nationality. What might then matter is what airports XXX YYY and ZZZ were, and what the residency and nationality of the traveler were.
    – MastaBaba
    Aug 15 at 19:53
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    This question is so vague as to be unanswerable. Rules vary around the world, and COVID just serves to complicate things. Perhaps you could cite your actual source instead of 'A customer support representative of some airline'. Aug 15 at 20:06
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    @FranckDernoncourt: I don't think under normal/typical circumstances the airline's jurisdiction extends to the airport. I myself have exited layover airports, and no one is the wiser for it. But, with COVID, the rules are very complex. It might very well be that the airline can't carry the passenger on the second leg if the passenger enters the country of the layover airport.
    – MastaBaba
    Aug 15 at 20:18
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    "Can the airline prevent the passenger from exiting/re-entering the airport...?" Sure, of course they can. They can have a few big burly employees sit on the passenger and prevent the passenger from exiting. I think this is why people are objecting to the question. Are you asking if they can legally do this? Are you asking if any airlines have their own rules allowing them to do this? The question needs more clarity.
    – Kyralessa
    Aug 16 at 10:09
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    @Kyralessa thanks I've edited the question. Sorry I thought it was obvious that the focus was on boarding the plane after the layover, since that's the part that the airline controls, but I agree that it wasn't perfectly phrased. Aug 16 at 21:39
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The passenger is allowed by countries A, B, and C to exit/re-enter the airport YYY during their layover at airport YYY

Countries A and C have no authority whatsoever to dictate who country B allows in, allows transit, allows to land (but not disembark) or denies altogether. Border admissions to country B are the sovereign right of B and B alone.

(which implies that country C is ok with the passenger leaving the transit area in country B before entering country C).

Assuming you mean travel in Covid Times, then yes this part can be a factor. In early 2020 travelers were considered to have entered the country the moment the wheels hit the pavement. Obviously this created a huge problem and has since been sorted out. As long as you stay in the transit area you are typically not considered to have entered the transiting country. Once you cross immigration you have officially entered and the arrival rules for country B and A now apply when you arrive at C. There are some easings for places where, for example, you have to change terminals but not airports.

In the Before Times we had the Israel problem. Some countries (mostly theocratic Arab states) would not admit people if they had an Israel entry stamp in their passport. You don't get one of those if you stay in the transit area. You also didn't get one if you asked Israeli immigration to not stamp your passport, which they were happy to accommodate.

In broad terms, the airline cannot stop you walking out of the airport at an intermediate stop simply because they do not know it happened. That's between the traveler and immigration. Other comments about airport taxes may apply, but in general a transit passenger is not charged taxes and departing within 24 hours of arrival is usually considered "transit". Plenty of connecting flights leave the next morning.

Also in broad terms, airline staff tend to take a stricter view of immigration rules than immigration themselves. One reason is the fines the airlines get if they accept a passenger they should not have accepted. It's a lot more than the airfare. Another is immigration deals with only their own rules, while airline staff have to read up on the rules for every destination they service. And the check-in staff are sometimes contract employees with minimal training.

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  • Let's clarify that in the case of the US Covid rules, transit (even airside transit) counts the same as actually entering the country.
    – jcaron
    Aug 16 at 8:34
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This is simpler than it looks

Can the airline prevent the passenger from exiting/re-entering the airport YYY during their layover at airport YYY,

No. The airline has no legal authority to do so.

and/or prevent the passenger from boarding the flight because they exited/re-entered airport YYY?

Yes. If by leaving and re-entering you violate a rule or condition that is required for entry into country C.

It changes your status from "coming from A with transit in B" to "coming from B" which may trigger a completely different set of rules (Covid or otherwise).

The practical aspect of this depends on the details. In some cases, the airline may not even be able to detect that you left and re-entered. In other cases, you may already get snagged at security since some magic stamp is missing from your boarding pass.

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I'll summarize the answers that the question received in the comment section:

  1. The airline simply tries to enforce the country's rule: they don't add extra rules.
  2. If a passenger leaves the transit airport, then they may not be able to legally enter the destination country, esp. due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  3. In theory, one is not allowed to exit the transit area, as the airline is not paying airport taxes there for processing passengers through those channels, though it unlikely to be enforced.

The answer is based on the following comments:

  • I believe it would be the country's rule which the airline has to honour. Airlines tend to check your eligibility for flying before you board. Under normal circumstances, they check whether you have a visa for the destination country, or are simply allowed to enter. Now, with COVID, the destination country might have restrictions on passengers from the transit country, but not (or differently) on passengers from the originating country. So, a passenger leaving the transit airport might mean different restrictions come into effect and the passenger might not be able to travel onwards. – MastaBaba 7 hours ago

  • There may be some confusion with the fact that unless you have a stopover rather than a layover, you usually won’t be able to get your checked bags (or check new bags). This is clearly under the airline’s control (directly or indirectly if they outsource part of the ground handling). There may also be the issue that the airline may not file API-type info for transit passengers. In theory you are not allowed to exit (as the airline is not paying airport taxes for your processing through those channels), but I doubt this can be enforced in most places. Details of country YYY would help. – jcaron 7 hours ago

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    It is better to ask the people to write answers rather than complile comments immediately.
    – Willeke
    Aug 16 at 8:18
  • @Willeke I agree, but unfortunately sometimes questions get closed quickly and comments get removed. Aug 16 at 17:48

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