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I am a South African national traveling through Amsterdam on my way from Latin America back to South Africa. I have bought two separate tickets for this journey (one taking me to Amsterdam, and another taking me to Johannesburg). From this question I understand that I do not need a transit visa even if I have separate tickets, but I might still run into trouble:

While the Schengen rules allow visa-free transit on separate tickets, you might encounter inexperienced gate employees who would deny you boarding.

My questions are:

  1. Could someone point out the specifics of the rules around visa-free transit in Schengen? What is the authoritative source for this?
  2. In the linked question, people recommend buying a single ticket instead. I have already purchased my tickets and am therefore wanting to make this work. How can I reduce the risk of inexperienced gate employees denying me to board?
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    Try inputting your entire itinerary and associated info eg passport etc into the IATA Passport, Visa & Health Regulations website iatatravelcentre.com There may be some confusion about possible exceptions for onward travel to eg USA, UK, Canada for 3rd country nationals holding a valid visa for those destinations, but your journey doesn’t fall into that category even if the exception exists
    – Traveller
    Sep 8, 2022 at 18:57
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    Do you have any checked luggage? That would make a visa required without any doubt. But even if you don’t, the chances of an airline letting you board without a visa are slim. They don’t care about any onward flights which are not in the same ticket, and even less if it isn’t one of their flights. If anything goes wrong and you get stuck there they can be hit with huge fines, so they err on the side of caution, which is to deny boarding.
    – jcaron
    Sep 8, 2022 at 19:01
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    @macwirb not sure it is a "rule" as such, but once the first airline has accepted you for travel it has a lot of responsibility, if the second airline cancels the next flight, the first airline would need to bring you back and give you food and accommodation until you arrive, hence airlines often only accepts passengers that can enter the destination
    – Anders
    Sep 8, 2022 at 19:16
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    @Traveller: I have never been able to make iata travel center work for separate tickets. As far as I know it always assume this is a single ticket. Is there a way to change this somewhere ?
    – Hilmar
    Sep 8, 2022 at 19:53
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    It is the other way round. Inexperienced employees may allow you boarding, that too if you don't have checked luggage. By default, you will be denied boarding unless you have a visa from a Schengen country. Sep 8, 2022 at 20:35

3 Answers 3

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If you have checked luggage, there’s no question about it, you will need to go through passport control and you will need a visa for this. End of story.

If for any other reason you have to go through passport control, like for instance if you can’t do mobile check-in and need to get to a check-in desk, same thing.

If you don’t, you could in theory make that connection without a visa. Except for a few cases of specific nationalities at specific airports which need an Airport Transit Visa even in this situation, Schengen countries do not care, as long as you have a confirmed onward flight quite soon (the rules as published on Timatic for the Netherlands say “on the same plane or on the first available connection”) and you stay airside (in the “international area”, which means you don’t have to got through passport control, which implies you can’t claim and recheck luggage). If you managed to get to Amsterdam, nobody would prevent you from making that connection.

The trouble is that airlines have a duty to the destination country to only carry passengers which meet the rules. If a passenger gets to passport control without a visa when they need one, the airline will receive a hefty fine and will have to carry the passenger back.

If the airline sold you a connecting flight, they know you meet the conditions. If ever there’s a problem with the connection, they have to take care of you (rebook you and so on), so you still meet the conditions.

But if you book two separate tickets, they have no way of being sure you really have that onward flight. They probably can’t check the status of your booking (and don’t want to), or even if it’s a real ticket! Most importantly, if there’s any sort of disruption which means you miss your ongoing flight, the gates of hell open for you and for them: the other airline will consider you a no-show, cancel your ticket, you’re stuck having to buy a new ticket at last minute prices, on some routes at certain times there may not be any availability for days, you have a strong chance of either being stuck at the airport for a while or come knocking at passport control, they get fined, they have to carry you back, they will try to charge you for that fine (yes, that’s in the terms and conditions you agreed to)…

They don’t want to deal with that. They sold you a ticket to go to Amsterdam. Can you enter the Netherlands? Please board. You can’t because you don’t have a visa? Sorry, can’t let you board.

Some agents will be convinced by a Timaric lookup and whatever proof you have of your onward flight. Most won’t. The rules are already complex enough when dealing with the connections they sell, they don’t want to take any risk for the connections they don’t.

When they sell a connection, they factor in the risks associated (having to rebook you, paying for hotels and meals if necessary, etc.). If you’re not willing to pay the price for those assurances, why should they?

Some airlines may accept to do that. Contact the first airline and get a guarantee in writing that they will let you board in those conditions (fat chance of that happening!). If they do, bring a copy of that to the airport, and good luck. But most probably they won’t guarantee anything, and then at the airport you have a very small chance they will let you board.

Bottom line: rebook as a single ticket or find a different itinerary where you can enter the connecting country.

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  • "If the airline sold you a connecting flight, they know you meet the conditions" - they don't know as they haven't seen any of your paperwork at this moment. But they don't care, as it is your responsibility.
    – George Y.
    Sep 9, 2022 at 4:20
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    (+1) Two small details (but that doesn't change the overall conclusion and relevance of your advice): “Direct Airside Transit Visa” is the terminology in the UK, in the Schengen area that's called an “Airport transit visa”. Also, Amsterdam Schiphol has some desks / machines to get boarding passes inside the sterile transit area. Not sure what they are for and how it works (I often fly from Schiphol but never transit there) but I thought it might be relevant.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 9, 2022 at 9:30
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    @Relaxed fixed the visa name. I had a doubt while writing it, should have checked :-/ Many airports have transfer desks and kiosks, and those can definitely be used if you have a regular connection and just don’t have the boarding pass for your next flight. No idea if they can be used if you are self connecting. Also I’m not sure they can act on behalf of all airlines or perform all the same operations as the regular check-in desks landside. Does not apply here but for instance I wouldn’t expect to be able to get a Ryanair boarding pass there especially if non-EU/EEA national.
    – jcaron
    Sep 9, 2022 at 10:22
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Could someone point out the specifics of the rules around visa-free transit in Schengen? What is the authoritative source for this?

I'm not sure such a thing exists. The EU sets some guidelines but each Schengen country implements it's own version of the rules and the documentation is all over the place. Airlines use TIMATIC and you can assess IATA's data base at https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/passport-visa-health-travel-document-requirements.htm

The problem here is that both systems are not great with separate tickets. At check in, the agent has only access to the details for your first flight. You can present the info for your second flight but the agent has no way of verifying this and is not obligated to accept it.

In the linked question, people recommend buying a single ticket instead.

That is indeed the safest option here.

How can I reduce the risk of inexperienced gate employees denying me to board?

Call the airline ahead, get their approval in writing and bring it with you to check in.

The linked question claims "While the Schengen rules allow visa-free transit on separate tickets" but they do not provide and source of reference for this claim and I wasn't able to find any.

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    "the Schengen rules allow visa-free transit on separate tickets" because the rules concerning visa free transit make no mention of tickets. As far as Schengen is concerned, a traveler who doesn't need a type A visa is allowed to fly to a Schengen airport from a third country and transfer to another flight to a third country without going through the passport checkpoint. Whether the flights are on the same ticket is irrelevant to government authorities.
    – phoog
    Sep 8, 2022 at 21:07
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    The EU doesn't merely set guidelines in this domain, the Schengen Visa Code is a regulation, it's simply the law. It does leave a few things up to member states (including the possibility to add — but not remove — countries from the list of countries whose nationals require an airport transit visa) but not many.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 9, 2022 at 9:36
  • @phoog: the issue here is not the government but how they airlines check the rules. Unless that government specifically states that this ok and this info finds its way TIMATIC or IATA, you will not be allowed to board, regardless of whether its visa free or not.
    – Hilmar
    Sep 9, 2022 at 12:01
  • @Hilmar I am only seeking to explain how one can reason (correctly) from the Schengen regulation to the statement "the Schengen rules allow visa-free transit on separate tickets." In the context of that statement, the only issue is the government. The fact that there are other rules and obligations that would lead an airline not to bring someone in the first place -- well, that's why people get confused. Even if the government explicitly that such transits are allowed, there would still be the question of who is liable if the second flight is cancelled. It wouldn't change much.
    – phoog
    Sep 9, 2022 at 13:41
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The other answers suggest rebooking on a single ticket, which is indeed a good option.

Depending on your situation, another option might be to apply for a Schengen visa for a short stay; that way you'll have it in your pocket, the airline will be happy. You don't have to use it.

If time permits and everything goes to plan, you can take the opportunity to have a quick trip into the city, perhaps by train or taxi.

It'll also be handy if your second flight gets rescheduled for any reason, you won't be limited to staying at the airport. If you end up having to rebook the onward flight, you'll have the option of booking the replacement flight on another day and/or from another airport.

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  • It is not normally possible to apply for a short stay Schengen visa from a location that is not the applicant’s home country/ country of residence Related question travel.stackexchange.com/questions/73277/…
    – Traveller
    Sep 10, 2022 at 8:23
  • @Traveller - that would depend on whether OP is resident or visitor in Latin America (not mentioned in the question), and possibly other details of their situation? Sep 10, 2022 at 8:46

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