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Essentially I was denied boarding to a TUI flight from Birmingham UK to the USA 2 weeks ago because of US Visa issues, despite me meeting all the criteria on the US Embassy (and hundreds of other websites) saying my visa and approach was valid. I am British but cannot use an ESTA Visa Waiver as I got driving ban on record from 2001. English/GBR, Tourist Visa B, Airline said there was a flag on the system, they didn't expand on that.

The US Tourist Visa is still in date (exp 2025) but it's in an expired passport (undamaged/same country of issue/same name etc), it was accompanied by the new passport. Every bit of prep I did said this would be fine but TUI systems flagged something and denied me boarding. The team leader repeatedly said the visa has to be in the new passport. I said to check the US Embassy rules, but they didn’t care, they wanted to close check in. I also believe they faked a call to the USA and shifted the blame there to be able to close check in – essentially they claim that US Border Control said they wouldn’t let me in, which I do not think is the truth as why would their official policy say otherwise?

The net effect was no holiday and £4000 out of pocket.

I have a USA trip booked for September (BA flight) and am trying to understand whether this will be a problem with BA also. I tried their helpline and the lady just didn’t really get the situation and just kept contradicting herself. I have sent them a web form question but I guess it will be the same response.

I cant turn up to the airport and have a 2nd holiday cancelled on the spot due to this lack of clarity and reassurance. I have an EU trip booked in August so cannot suffer any delays with US embassy interviews/passport processing delays either so feel really stuck.

Can you help? What is the official line on this? My wife is in tears over this as there is no useful route for any support from the airlines – web forms cannot get the point over and the phone operatives seem to be droids capable of only processing the most basic of questions.

Was TUI in the wrong? Will BA deny me boarding too?

Thanks

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    One trick to keep up your sleeve: tell the agent to check TIMATIC, which should say something like "A passenger may enter the USA with a valid visa in an expired passport, if also holding a valid passport of the same nationality." TIMATIC is the authoritative source for document requirements that airlines use for their check-in agents.
    – phoog
    Jul 28, 2022 at 19:07
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    @phoog Unfortunately, it's all too common to see the agents at smaller airports be sure they're "right" and refuse to check and refuse boarding for valid passengers. Even a check against TIMATIC doesn't always work. Before Covid LAX -> PVG (5 days) -> NRT (4 hours) -> LAX was legal without a visa--but you had to enter it into TIMATIC as a trip to Tokyo with a stopover in Shanghai. Jul 28, 2022 at 19:43
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    @LorenPechtel and I suppose it might be difficult to get that bit about visas to appear when the traveler has the nationality of a VWP country.
    – phoog
    Jul 28, 2022 at 20:38
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    I am a German citizen, also eligible for ESTA/visa waiver, and had a 10 year U.S. tourist visa from 2006-2016 or so. After the passport with the visa had expired, I traveled many times with that visa in the expired passport plus a new, valid passport. It was never an issue. The old passport had been invalidated by punching holes in it when the new one was issued. The German officer punching it took care to leave the visa page intact, and I always presented the old passport with that visa page open together with the new, valid passport. Jul 29, 2022 at 15:05
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    Not an answer, but just advice for this situation: If you booked your TUI ticket on a credit card, I would personally file a chargeback for services not received immediately. There is a usually a (relatively short) time limit on how long you have to do this. A CC chargeback will put more pressure on TUI to provide evidence of whether or not they were in the right.
    – reirab
    Jul 29, 2022 at 17:12

1 Answer 1

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TUI was certainly wrong if they declined to send your advance passenger information (API) to Customs and Border Protection because of the team leader's incorrect belief that you could not use your valid visa in your expired passport in connection with your current valid passport.

However, if they sent your API (complete and correctly entered) and received a response indicating that they should not let you board, then they would not have been in the wrong.

To be clear, I'm thinking of the possibility that they sent your data, got a "do not board" response, and then misrepresented the reason for that response either because they misunderstood it or because they felt like making up a reason would help get you out of their hair more quickly so they could get on with processing the flight.

I do not know how likely you are to be able to find out which it is. Ideally you want to have them in a position where the burden of proof is on them to show that they sent your correct information, including the visa, and were told not to board you. I don't know whether the denied-boarding regulation puts them in that position. If it does, file a claim and see if they have the evidence. It will depend a bit on the specific language used to exclude improper travel documents from the scope of the regulation: if it says that it only covers denial related to overbooking, it won't help you. If it says that cases of improper travel documents are excluded, then you can probably challenge their determination that the documents were improper.

Unfortunately, this will only help you with your September trip if they do have the records of the API transaction with CBP and will disclose them. To find out what happened from the US side you'd probably have to file a request for your data, which will probably take too long to be of use for September, but it might be worth a try.

Another possiblity would be to change your September tickets to fly to Canada and enter the US from there. If you enter by land, you'll be able to present your visa directly to a CBP officer. Even if you fly, you'll be going through preclearance in the Canadian airport. This is probably more cost and trouble than is justified for most people, but it might be useful for some.

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    Would fly from Dublin work, as you clear US immigration there?
    – Willeke
    Jul 28, 2022 at 14:24
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    @Willeke I suppose it might help but I think the airline still has to submit API, so if they're getting "do not board" message, I think the traveler will never reach the US immigration checkpoint.
    – phoog
    Jul 28, 2022 at 17:35
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    Asked a follow up question: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/175273/…
    – JonathanReez
    Jul 29, 2022 at 0:55
  • if they do have the records of the API transaction with CBP and will disclose them fwiw, my understanding is that via GDPR right of access, if they do retain that information, they are legally obliged to disclose it to you. You could certainly argue that in any communication with them.
    – Tom W
    Jul 30, 2022 at 18:10
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    @phoog The denied boarding regulation is certainly NOT limited to overbookings; I know this first-hand as I've got €3500 in total for denied boardings due to travel docs issues
    – Crazydre
    Jun 30, 2023 at 13:48

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