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Editorial comment - April 2018


In 2015, I documented the difficulties endured by holders of the UK issued 1951 Geneva Convention Travel Document at the hands of easyJet. This travel document gives the holder visa-free travel privileges within certain countries in Europe based on an international agreement.


During that time, numerous passengers using the travel document complained about being denied boarding on easyJet flights. In one instance, a passenger on this document travelling from the UK to Spain was denied boarding because the airline requested to see a visa. Despite showing a letter from the Spanish consulate confirming that the holder did not require one, the airline stood its ground and refused boarding.


The problem was that the system deployed by easyJet was not able to distinguish correctly that the passenger did not require a visa. That system alerted easyJet staff that a visa was required for travel based on the passenger’s nationality but not the ‘Issuing Country’ and the unique particulars of the document. In this case, a UK issued travel document allows travel to Spain visa free but easyJet’s processes were not able to detect this at the time.


It’s worth noting that some passengers’ nationality will differ from the ‘Issuing Country’ so the visa regime might also differ. Most airlines will tap into this information when passengers enter their document details at the booking stage and in most cases will alert the passenger and check-in agent accordingly if additional documentation is required – this is where easyJet had failed.


I’m glad to report that things have now changed at easyJet. As a holder of this travel document myself, a recent trip from Gatwick to Toulouse proved that the airline has upgraded its systems. A quick check by the check-in agent verified that a visa was not needed for travel to France and the travel experience was swift and painless.


It is encouraging to see that the airline acted on solving a problem that it was responsible for. Airline passengers are constantly reminded by airlines to make sure they have all the necessary documentation required for travel and rightly so. But when they are turned away after presenting correct and adequate documents then the airline is at fault. Airlines are not immigration authorities – they have no business requesting a visa if one is not required.


Interestingly, easyJet now allows passengers, including holders of various types of travel documents, the chance to check their visa status on its website so you know before you go.  The last remaining ‘issue’ is the airline’s request on its website asking passengers to bring evidence from embassies in cases where visas are not required.


Most other airlines do not have this requirement because the systems they have in place automatically detect this.

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