How should one generally deal with check in staff that is poorly trained on visa requirements (and exceptions which permit TWOV)?

Would they believe any printouts (ie from official government website or timatic) the passenger brought along?

Just curious how one should go about these types of situations where the traveler is right and the check-in/document staff with the airline/airport are wrong.

  • 14
    Don't the check-in staff use guidance rules from their computer terminal? I don't see how that will be left to individual staff decisions. If the computer says no how would you argue with staff? Aside: why I am terrified by AI. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 19:27
  • 3
    Note that there is a big ambiguity regarding self-connections. While when you read TWOV rules you may consider that they allow self-connections, airlines usually consider that in the case of a self-connection you must fulfil the rules for entry into the country, not transit. If that’s the issue you are facing, it’s quite unlikely you will get them to change their minds. Other than that, get them to actually check their tools (Timatic or Traveldoc) with the right parameters for your case and hope the database is correct and up to date.
    – jcaron
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:03
  • 2
    Do you have specific cases in mind? There are so many possible situations, including them actually being right, or denied boarding being ordered by the destination (or overflown) country directly, for instance.
    – jcaron
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:05
  • 2
    assume they know better than you, unless maybe you're a lawyer or consular officer specialising in the visa law of the country in question.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 12:19
  • 2
    During Covid lockdowns I was trying to travel from NZ to Australia (where I worked), Australia itself had contradictory/ambiguous language on its own websites. I just brought as much documentation of my employment as possible. After a preliminary 'no' they corralled about 8 of us in the same boat in to an area, I took them step by step through the websites but only making the assumptions that made our travel valid. The guy made a phone call, read the website wording to whomever was in the other end. 2 minutes later we were on ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I think he genuinely wanted to let us travel. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 19:29

3 Answers 3


Stay polite and friendly and from a position of "you don't want to deal with not being able to check me in any more than I don't want to go away unchecked-in." I had a gate agent in Toronto who fundamentally misunderstood the wording of a letter permitting me to travel to Singapore.

The gate agent asked "why are you going to Singapore?" and it's not a secret, but she's not an immigration agent trained in determining whether reasons are essential. So I told her "we have an approval letter, it's for an essential reason" and I gave her my son's letter. That starts

APPLICATION FOR ENTRY IN VIEW OF 2019 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS [Son's name], Please refer to your application for entry regarding the above matter. I am pleased to inform that you may seek entry to Singapore between 30 Oct 2020 and 03 Nov 2020. The Immigration Officer at the checkpoints will assess your eligibility for entry, provided that you fulfil the usual entry requirements where applicable."

Now, Singapore never says "Congratulations, you are going to be let in." This is permission to present ourselves to an immigration person IN SINGAPORE and say "I would now like to come in." It is our approval letter. But she is all "this is just your application." No, I tell her, the application was 20 pages long, this is the approval. She keeps leaving (with our passports) and coming back and typing and then leaving again. Eventually she comes back with someone else and it occurs to me to show her the PDF from our Arrival Card submission. This is like a landing card used to be, but there are health questions. It is completely unrelated to whether or not you have permission to enter. But it starts:

Dear [Son's name], You have successfully submitted your arrival information and health declaration to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority on 30/10/2020 22:55 (Singapore Time).

This proves that we submitted a Covid-related form which was optional, I could have used an app on my phone or waited till we landed, but BECAUSE I DID, I had the magic piece of paper that says "successful" on it.

Several times she said to me "this is your approval. I needed this." And I didn't argue with her because I wanted to get on the plane. And we did.

Looking back now some years later I think she came to realize that she was wrong about the "you may seek entry" not meaning we had permission, and needed a way to save face. She found it on the health form. Had we been argumentative and unpleasant, she might not have gone for it. And definitely bring as many different pieces of paper as you can find, printouts of rules, printouts of emails, receipts, whatever you have, in the hope that one of them might change their mind or give them an excuse to announce "this changes everything" and let you on.

  • 6
    Congratulations on the quick thinking. Working out how the other person can do what you need them to and save face is key to so many situations.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 13:46
  • 1
    Wow... being patient and polite worked better than arguing and yelling. Who knew... :)
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 12:16
  • Sensible advice. Polite and consistently firm is the way to resolve a situation where you are in the right, the other person just needs time to realise it.
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 20:27

This has happened to me twice and it is a very stressful situation. Gate agents check the computer for what the rules are. The output is not whether any particular passenger can board but it can be a fairly long text explaining all the rules. The decision on how to interpret the rules is up to the agent.

Last time, I was initially told that I could not board because I did not have a return ticket within the 3-month limit of the TWOV. I had a return ticket but several months later. In this case, the wording was a little convoluted and the agent judged it would be ambiguous and wanted interpret them conservatively. We insisted calmly with the agent which called a supervisor and continued the conversation over a full hour. They showed us the computer output and we read everything line by line discussing our interpretation of the rules. We were really worried, not just to miss the flight but because we had shipped things ahead of us to the destination country. They let us in on time after letting them take copies of our paperwork, itinerary and plan. The contention point was centered around a statement that said the country may refuse entry but that visa extensions could only be applied from within the destination country. This was the conundrum, we knew that we wanted to stay longer but we were told by the embassy that it was only possible to extend at the destination. Had we known this ahead of time, it would have probably helped to ask a letter stating this from the embassy.

Another time I had problems boarding was due to fast-changing covid rules and the agents had outdated info that we not propagated to the system. I know these had just changed, so I brought print-outs and showed it to the agent which showed it to the supervisor. Again, I explained calmly but confidently that these were the latest rules.

So, to answer the question on how to deal with unknowledgeable staff is to be knowledgeable yourself and bring as much documentation as possible to support your point-of-view. In the end of the first time, the supervising agent congratulated us on having done our homework well. If you can, get the documentation from an authority such as embassy, even if it is a screenshot or printout of the info on the embassy website (that is what I had for the time regarding covid rules).

  • "The output is not whether any particular passenger can board but it can be a fairly long text explaining all the rules": Seems as if this is one of the areas where a simple rule-based program would shine. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 10:31
  • Also, i think when you said "to answer the question on how to deal with knowledgeable staff" you meant "unknowledgeable staff" ;-). Dealing with knowledgeable staff is typically not hard unless you want to dupe them. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 10:33
  • Thanks the letting me know! Fixed. Yeah, it leaves a lot to interpretation. They showed the text in English but it makes me wonder if all staff in non-native English locations would have to understand such complex wording if it is not available in other languages (which sometimes introduces slight ambiguities).
    – Itai
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 13:44
  • 2
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica Simple? Some rules are several pages long, with lots of conditions, exceptions, exceptions to the exceptions, and whatnot. While many rules indeed follow a relatively simple template for the most common cases, there are so many special cases related to the numerous types of travel documents, visas, residence permits and so on, that even border guards have sometimes to refer to their higher-ups to be sure (and sometimes even those get it wrong!).
    – jcaron
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 14:32
  • @Itai In my experience reading visa-related rules, it often almost doesn’t matter whether it’s in your own language or not, because they are so confusing and complex that you need a degree in travel law and several mind boards to understand them. I have on several occasions just given up trying to understand such rules, even though they were written in English. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 15:29
  1. Make sure you have done your homework and have some documents to back it up.
  2. A really good one to check is the IATA travel center https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/passport-visa-health-travel-document-requirements.htm. Airlines rarely disagree with this.
  3. Be prepared to escalate to a supervisor, or simply try a different agent. An agent that actually works for the airline is typically more knowledgeable than a random contractor that works for 4 different airlines on any given day.
  4. Make sure you're clear about what exactly the problem seems to be. We had one agent reject our Covid tests since he had today's date mixed up in his head.
  5. Make sure the agent understands what you are talking about and explain if needed. We asked one check in agent to check whether our Global Entry number was on the booking for a flight to the US. He had no idea what this was, so we explained the concept of a Known Traveler number to him. After he understood he could call a supervisor and ask.
  • 1
    6. Be at the checkin desk with plenty of time before the gate closes it may take some time to explain you case. Err on the side of being early. Better to waste an extra hour at the airport then to finally plead your case succesfully, but miss the plane.
    – Abigail
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 18:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .