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Several times now when travelling to different countries I noticed that the airlines don't ask me for the visa during check-in. Some of them go through the whole passport looking for the visa while others don't and seem to go for completing the check-in process.

I might be wrong of course as sometimes the desk has a glass window that obstructs the view, but they finish the check-in process really quickly.

1- Do airlines have access to a system that shows them if I have a valid visa to the country of arrival?
2- If so do they confirm that the visa on the system is the same as the one in the passport?
3- What if I planning to get a visa on arrival because I own a valid used Schengen visa? How will they confirm if I'm allowed to enter the country?

2 Answers 2

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The answer will depend on the destination country, and to some extent the airline.

Some countries (for example, the US and Australia) have electronic systems that the airlines must use to confirm a passenger meets the entry requirements for the country - such as holding a valid visa or equivalent documentation (eg, ESTA). At check-in, the airlines computers will query that system and confirm the passenger is good to travel. If they are unable to verify the passenger has the required documentation then they will generally fail to check the person in, and require manual intervention by a check-in agent to fix the problem. (eg, maybe the passenger has 2 passports and it's the second one that allows visa-free entry).

Other countries rely on physical stamps in the passport which need to be checked by the airline staff. Depending on the airline they may choose to confirm you have the required documentation before they issue a boarding pass (which often means you will only be able to check-in for those countries at the airport if you require a visa to enter), OR they may choose to flag your booking in a way to let the staff at the gate know that they need to check this before boarding.

The exact process for this varies between airlines. You may sometimes hear passengers at the gate being called to the podium for a "documentation check", which is the staff carrying out this check. Some carriers will put text or a stamp on the boarding pass to show that this process has been carried out. For example, United Airlines currently puts "Travel Ready" on the boarding pass to show that all relevant checks (including visas/etc, COVID-19 requirements, etc) have been successfully carried out. Other carriers may put "DOCS OK" to confirm that the documentation check has been carried out.

The process of determining where a visa is required also varies between airlines, but most major airlines use a system called Timatic, which is normally automatically queried during check-in to determine the exact documentation requirements for a trip.

Specifically for Visa-On-Arrival, from the airlines perspective if a passenger is eligible for Visa-On-Arrival (which is something Timatic will show if they are) then the passenger can be treated as not requiring a visa for that specific country, and there is nothing for the airline to specifically check, beyond the fact that the passenger meets the requirements for obtaining a visa on arrival.

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Unless we're talking pure online passport registrations (American ESTA, Australian eVisitor, Canadian ETA etc.) then no, they have to check it physically. Sometimes they fail to do this at any point (for example due to assuming that a nationality is visa-exempt), and this has got carriers massively fined more than once!

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  • How do they confirm if the visa is valid?
    – Belong
    Jul 15, 2023 at 12:49
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    Generally this is by visual inspection alone. They can also look up the TIMATIC database in unfamiliar cases. Jul 15, 2023 at 14:14
  • @Belong What do you mean by valid? It shows the expiry date. If you mean whether it's been revoked without a corresponding stamp, their system for US flights can verify that (it will give a "DO NOT BOARD - CONTACT USCBP" messafe). Otherwise, any unexpired visa would be assumed to be valid, and the carrier would be off the hook if it isn't (other than having to fly the passenger back)
    – Crazydre
    Jul 15, 2023 at 14:41
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    @Crazydre that doesn't always work though. Many countries (US included) no longer issue entry stamps, and have no exit checks.
    – Ozzy
    Jul 15, 2023 at 18:28
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    @Crazydre yes, as of last year or so I believe. All entry/exit records are now solely online for all visitors
    – Ozzy
    Jul 15, 2023 at 18:41

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