I try to find "legality" of following situation:

Mom (75, Slovak citizen) was traveling from Slovakia to Vancouver (Kosice-Vienna-Newark-Vancouver). The reason was to stay as visitor in Vancouver for 6 months with family, who are Canadian citizens.
Flight back was not via USA (Vancouver-Toronto-Viena-Kosice).

She had fresh ESTA Travel Visa (to be able to get flight from Newark to Vancouver). Before boarding to flight from Vienna to Newark (on Vienna Airport) she was told that because her flight back is 6 months later her ESTA Visa will be expired by then and therefore she can not board the plane to Newark…

She had to stay (with my brother, her son - Canadian citizen) in Vienna, in Hotel, they both had to buy tickets to Toronto - to avoid USA.. and it cost a lot.

Is it possible to get any info which rules actually were used to restrict moms boarding to the flight?

Here is an answer from Austrian Airlines to my request to help me with issue:

Thank you for your correspondence. We were sorry to learn of the circumstances that prompted you to write and appreciate the opportunity to respond.

We regret to hear that your mother was not able to travel as planned on flight OS89 / 04 Apr 15 from Vienna to Newark onto Canada due to visa / ESTA issues.

Kindly be advised that Lufthansa/Austrian Airlines are not part of the immigration service of any country and, therefore, cannot be liable for any compliance thereof. Each country's government has its own regulations concerning visa and entry permits, and the airlines have no influence regarding the implementation. While an airline may complimentary advise a customer of such requirements, there is no legal obligation to do so. The Consulate or Embassy of each individual country included in an itinerary should be consulted prior to commencement of travel due to frequently changing regulations.

Lufthansa’s/Austrian Airline’s General Conditions of Carriage state that Lufthansa/Austrian Airlines may refuse carriage if the passenger does not have valid travel documents and that the passenger is solely responsible for obtaining all required travel documents and proper visas prior to travel and for complying with all laws, regulations and requirements of countries from which or to which the passenger wishes to travel or transit through. In addition, it also reads that Lufthansa/Austrian Airlines shall not be held responsible for the consequences or expenses that result from the failure to obtain such documents or incomplete documentation from the non-compliance with such laws, regulations and requirements.

Mr. (my name), we realize our response may not be the one anticipated and appreciate your understanding of our position.

Sincerely, (name)

Customer Feedback North America Lufthansa German Airlines

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    So the airline denied boarding because she was not going to transit the U.S. twice? That sounds ridiculous. It is almost certainly a mistake. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 22:32
  • 1
    Was it all one ticket/booking? If it was separate tickets, the airline system might have flagged it since it couldn't "see" all the qualifying flights.
    – user13044
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 2:26
  • The catch is mostly that when transiting in the US, you must cross the US border and therefore enter the country. So they can refuse someone there. One possibility is to avoid crossing unnecessary borders (and for Europe-Canada, find connections either in Schengen or Canada).
    – Vince
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 8:25
  • Reading Timatic, it is very clear that this transit would be allowed, so the airline was clearly mistaken to deny boarding. I hope you were at least able to obtain compensation. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 21:10

3 Answers 3


I am not a lawyer or an immigration expert, but if your mother was, in essence, visiting the US once on the way out and then not visiting it on the way back, it is irrelevant whether her Visa Waiver would have expired (ESTA is not a visa - it is merely a certification that allows her to board a plane - the Visa Waiver is what permits her to enter the US, and they generally permit a stay of 90 days).

There are other requirements for ESTA/VWP travel, such as having a machine-readable passport. You will need to make sure Mom has complied with all of them.

There is a different issue that 6 months is a long time to stay in Canada as a tourist, but if the airline were concerned about that they would not have allowed her to board a flight to Toronto

From what you say it looks very much to me as if the airline made a mistake. Talk to their customer service department, and make sure you point out that your Mom was not visiting the US on her way back.

In general it is certainly legal that an airline can deny boarding if they believe the passenger would be denied entry when they arrive, and it happens all the time.

(All of the above assumes that your mother is a Slovakian citizen)

EDIT: In response to the additional edit to the question, I recommend that you write back to Austrian Airlines stating clearly that you believe that your mother had the necessary paperwork to complete the flight, and that you believe the airline made a mistake in denying her boarding. Ask them how to make a formal complaint.


OP writes:

Response from US Customs via email (CBP Officer)

If she had an approved ESTA, she would be able to travel to the US. Please contact the airlines

Austrian Airlines accepted their fault and admitted that she should have been allowed on the flight

They wrote:

We were very sorry to hear about your regrettable experience in Vienna. While we are unable to explain why you were not accepted on your original flight , we can certainly understand your disappointment and truly regret the inconveniences as described.

They are about to pay mom's expenses.

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    Note - this is not a blog! It's a question and answer site
    – Gagravarr
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 17:29
  • 1
    I would certainly be asking for recompense for expenses incurred by anyone as a direct result of this incident. Just because AA makes you an offer doesn't mean that's their final offer. Commented May 2, 2015 at 16:57

Most countries can hold the airlines responsible to carry passengers back if they carry a passenger without a valid documentation. That's why airlines checks for travel documents and may refuse you from boarding if they have a good reason to believe that you will be refused entry or have other problems. Whether the airline staffs' assessment of your situation is accurate or not really depends on what you tell them about your travel plan and how you can convince them that your papers are actually in order or will be so, and won't cause a problem for them.

As for "legality" of refusing service, I am not a lawyer (and laws relating to international travels are always confusing because of the multiple jurisdictions involved), but I believe since an aircraft is pretty much a private business establishment, they pretty much have the right to refuse anyone for any purpose (except if the refusal is solely based on protected statuses as defined by anti-discrimination law, which includes: race, color, religion, national origin, and sometimes sexual orientation).

  • 2
    I don't think airlines can refuse to carry someone for whatever reason they want. First, once you've bought a ticket you already have the relationship with the airline; the terms are governed at least by the contract of carriage (written by the airline and as favorable to them as possible), which has a handful of specific reasons to deny boarding. Second, local law generally regulates airlines; in the US they're common carriers (who cannot discriminate except for a good reason), in Europe there are rules preventing them from denying boarding except for a good reason.
    – cpast
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:12
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    That said, incomplete travel documents is a valid reason to refuse carriage; however, if the travel documents are actually sufficient, the airline might not be able to get away with no compensation.
    – cpast
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:16

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