I was reading about Schengen transit visas today, and in an answer I saw that Schengen requires some people to have an airport transit visa. This visa is apparently for entering the international transit area of airports located in Schengen, i.e. not entering the Schengen area, not crossing any border.

This means that to just get out of the plane that brought you there, you will need a visa. In the answer, it is mentioned that it is the duty of the airline that flew you there to check for this visa, that they risk a fine.

But, in fact, as far as I know, airline crew is not entitled to perform any police/border duty, is it? In many cases they check the passengers' passports to make sure passengers are allowed at their destination because airlines are supposed to carry the passengers back if passengers are not allowed (I vaguely remember reading about this), but I am not sure airlines are allowed to deny any passenger to board for lack of visa.

On top of that, there is no control directly at the exit of a plane in Schengen area, so if a passenger merely transits in the international area, it is not even possible to control this person was there.

So, is this airport transit visa rule actually enforced?

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    It was the major airlines themselves who lobbied for the authority to screen passengers and refuse movement to those who did not qualify.
    – Gayot Fow
    Mar 15, 2015 at 20:02
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    I can vouch for the fact that as an Indian passport holder, which often means getting visas and checks done, airline staff do very thorough checks on visas multiple times within the airport. I've never been denied boarding since I've always had the right documentation but been told that they can and will deny boarding if it's not there. For airports where I don't go through passport control (low cost carriers, mainly) airline staff check visas and need to get authorisation from passport control to let me through. Mar 15, 2015 at 20:03
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    @AnkurBanerjee Just to add, for what it's worth, I know people (Chinese citizens flying to Schengen area via London) who were denied boarding because they didn't have the correct UK transit visa (they were misinformed by their travel agent). Basically just to agree with you and the answers below, airlines do check and will deny you boarding in the paperwork is not correct.
    – SpaceDog
    Mar 16, 2015 at 6:58
  • In many occasion I had the person at the check-in asking me if I had right to flight to destination, because they didn't know. It seems unlikely that they'd know about transit visas...
    – algiogia
    Mar 16, 2015 at 9:28
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    Airlines can and do refuse boarding to passengers if they do not have the relevant visas etc. for the journey they are trying to take. This is because, as you said, the airlines are liable if they transport passengers who do not have the correct paperwork. Mar 16, 2015 at 11:03

3 Answers 3


The purpose of requiring airport transit visas of certain nationalities is to prevent asylum seekers from traveling to the host country under the guise of transiting towards somewhere else. Once someone is physically present on the host country's sovereign soil (which includes an airport's international transit area) and lodges an application for asylum, the host country is obliged to house and feed the applicant while they process the application. Governments tend to find that distasteful, especially when in their experience many asylum applications are made by citizens of particular countries.

Thus, the enforcement: If someone without the required airport transit visa shows up and petitions for asylum instead of traveling onward, then the authorities will know that whatever airline he arrived on has been too lax in checking his visa before he boarded. The airline will then be fined.

This motivates airlines to check transit visa for everyone of the relevant nationalities.

It is true that if someone without a visa is let through by the airline and turns out to be honest and proceed to his final destination, the government will never know about that. But since the airline can't distinguish honest passengers from dishonest ones, they need to check everybody.

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    I have the vague impression that we already had this discussion but that's inaccurate, airlines often (typically?) cannot be fined if someone lodges an application for asylum. The requirement is not about preventing “distasteful” frivolous applications, it's about preventing credible ones, which states like even less. The list of states on the ATV requirement list in the Schengen area bears this out. Frivolous applications typically come from people who entered with a visa, overstayed, sometimes for years, and finally find themselves threatened with removal, an entirely different situation.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 8, 2015 at 6:18

Airline staff can, will and in some cases must check that you have the right visas. They can and will prevent you boarding the plane if you do not have them. As you say the airline is responsible if they allow you to fly to destination for which you do not have a visa.

The likelihood is you will be denied boarding if you do not have the right visa. I know people who have been denied boarding under these circumstances.

  • "in some cases must": if by "must" you mean to refer to the fine that an airline can incur for bringing someone who is not in possession of a required visa then I suppose that this is true for every Schengen country.
    – phoog
    Nov 24, 2022 at 13:50

Airlines can and do check whether people meet some basic requirements to enter their destination. Of course, they can't guarantee that someone will ultimately be let in (e.g. they don't know how the landing interview will go and have no access to the databases border guards have) but they do have to check that you at least have a passport and visa that look valid.

If your citizenship gives you the right to enter many countries visa-free, that check is completely transparent and you might have not noticed it but for less fortunate people it means they have to present a visa or some additional documentation for virtually every flight they take.

Now, airport transit visas are a special case. If you look at the list of countries whose citizens need an airport transit visa, e.g. in the Schengen area, you will see it mostly comprises troubled countries from where many people try to seek asylum in Europe. Those are also the countries whose applicants have the highest success rate (at least in some destination countries, there are huge, almost absurd, differences between European countries in this respect).

Dealing with a frivolous asylum application costs money but if it's obviously unfounded and the person comes from a safe country, she will usually be detained and removed relatively quickly, at least if she has a passport and is forced to lodge her application at the border. Consequently, people who have absolutely no shot at a refugee status usually don't try that (many many applications nowadays come neither from genuine refugees nor from people stuck at the border, but from people who entered legally and try to delay deportation by any means available - including hopeless asylum applications - after their status changed).

Therefore, what this requirement is designed to achieve is to prevent people with a genuine claim to asylum from reaching the territory of a country. Because once you are there, the right to see your application examined and, if you meet the criteria, to be allowed to stay in the country is an established principle in international law (“non-refoulement“) that European states mostly honour. But there is no obligation to assist the people who are stuck in their region of origin, so we had rather have as many of them stay there instead of getting an opportunity to apply for asylum.

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