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Deported from Costa Rica

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1. Posted by ZR (First Time Poster 1 posts) 10y

My family and I had a vacation planned to the Paradisus Playa Conchal for December 10th-15th, but we never got the opportunity to experience it because we were deported from the country at Liberia Airport.

I have nothing negative to say about the resort or about the airport in Liberia, and we are still eagerly looking forward to our rebooked vacation in February, but I'm looking for advice concerning action to take against American Airlines.

I had booked our vacation online in October, and later called American Airlines reservations to see what proper documentation my eight year old son needed to enter Costa Rica (the rest of my family had passports, and I knew that when we flew to Mexico a birth certificate was sufficient for minors). I was put on hold, and then told that an original birth certificate with a raised seal would suffice (this was deemed invalid by a law passed in 2003 by the Costa Rican government mandating that all international travelers have passports). Seeing that all the other members of my family had passports, I had no reason to distrust the "expert" advice of American Airlines (their pre-recorded announcement upon waiting for a representative).

When we arrived at LaGuardia airport at 4AM on Saturday morning, December 10th, we were officially checked in by an American Airlines employee, who told us that after December 31st, 2005, anyone leaving the United States will need a passport to return (the validity of this statement is now in question, and I think that rule goes officially into effect in a year). Anyway, we were checked in by American Airlines for an international flight with insufficient documentation. We connected in Miami after a two + hour layover, and actually flew to Liberia, Costa Rica, and were promptly turned away and put back onto the nest flight back to Miami.

We flew back to Miami from Costa Rica because that was the only place American Airlines flew from Liberia. Obviously, if anyone was in that situation, they would want to speak to some airline representative as soon as possible, and seeing as there were none in Liberia, we flew back to Miami to find someone. Onboard the plane back to Miami, the flight attendants and pilot were very accommodating in contacting Miami and explaining our story, in hopes that a representative would be waiting for us at the gate. The flight attendants and pilots were astonished and shocked about what happened, and they had never seen it before.

When we arrived in Miami, we had to wait through Customs and Immigrations almost two hours before we could reach the representative. When we finally began speaking to her, she recommended we stay in Miami until at least Monday when we could contact American Airlines customer service and attempt to work out our issues before a flight left on Monday. She even rebooked us on a flight back to Liberia on Monday leaving us hopeful that it was possible to get a passport by 11AM Monday morning (which even I was skeptical about).

At this point, American Airlines gave us vouchers for hotel, food, and transportation to the hotel. Once we arrived, we had problems checking in because they would only give us one room for the five of us. After an hour’s negotiation, they finally gave us two rooms. We went to the rooms, and went to go get food. We were starving because the only thing we had eaten all day were the little bags of Tostitos they give you on the plane. All eating establishments at the resort were closed at this point. We just decided to go to bed. While I was reading, I noticed the air conditioning was not working, so I went to call down to see if someone could fix it. As I picked up the phone, bugs crawled all over the nightstand, and on to the bed. At this point, I went downstairs to get a room change, where I took note of at least ten passengers who also had American Airlines vouchers. They seem to screw up in Miami a lot.

I know any of our experiences in Miami had nothing to do with the passport, but it just added to upset to our miserable day. One thing after the other kept happening, and it was almost like a movie where bad things keep happening to travelers. Come Sunday morning, when we again couldn’t get any food, and couldn’t get a taxi to take us off the Indian Reservation we were on, we decided to go back to Miami International, speak with another American Airlines representative, and perhaps rent a car so we could have a little more control.

I cannot express the emotional stress and devastation this event has caused my family, and the series of events that followed once we returned to America (including a lost bag that went from Miami to Liberia to BOGOTA to Liberia, and then on Delta to Atlanta to LaGuardia, and gotten to us on December 14th --- this is obviously irrelevant to the situation, but just another unnecessary and stressful obstacle caused by American Airlines).

We rebooked in February because that was the first time the resort had availability.

I have posted on other forums where this story has been unclear, so I am happy to clarify.

My family consists of me, my wife, and my three sons (17, 13, and 8). The only one without a passport was my eight year old son. Upon booking the vacation I was unclear whether he needed a passport, because when we flew to Mexico, a passport wasn't necessary, and I just wasn't sure what the requirements were. I called the airlines for the documentation information because I trusted them (which was obviously a mistake). This was the first mistake American Airlines made.

The second mistake that American Airlines made was checking us in for an international flight in New York. As we were later told, the employees who check flyers in at LaGuardia are told that all people, no matter what age, must possess passports. The employee who checked us through in New York disregarded this information, and checked us through with improper documentation. The fact that we were traveling internationally with improper documentation for entry into Costa Rica was labeled as a "security breech" by both the employees in the airport in Liberia, and by American Airline's employees. Obviously, it was not a breech of security, but in another situation it may have been, and I suppose they consider all incidents equally. For this "security breech," American Airlines is being fined (not sued) by the Costa Rican government for $10,000 dollars.

I absolutely agree that it was somewhat careless of me to not double-check information before traveling to Costa Rica, but when I am trusting and airline to fly me around the world, I trust that they will give me correct information. American Airline's policy is that customers must seek information themselves, which is what we should've been told initially. However, since we were given improper information, I saw no reason to double-check information (which again I probably should've done anyway).

My problem with this entire situation is that we were flown to Costa Rica. If one employee made a mistake on the phone, then another employee should've corrected it by turning us away in New York, where we could've gotten home in fifty minutes and attempted to regroup without the stress of everything that actually took place.

I made an error by not rechecking information that was essential to the success of our vacation. However, American Airlines made several mistakes that have drained us financially and emotionally. Additionally, American Airline's has handled the situation poorly since our first contact with customer service, and there has been a delay in any response or resolution. As we are told daily that a resolution will be coming later that day or the next day, this creates a problem for me.

My family and I are NOT experienced travelers. We fly once a year to West Palm Beach on JetBlue or Song to visit my in-laws, and we fly once a year to California on the same airlines. This is the extent of our travels. I have NEVER traveled internationally with my family before, and it would never even have occurred to me to call the US Embassy or the Costa Rican tourism board to ask about documentation requirements. Obviously I will never make this mistake again. But if an airline is flying you internationally, I would expect to trust whatever information they give you. If the policy of the airline is for the passenger to find out information himself, tell him that. If a minor is not allowed to enter a country without a passport, and an original birth certificate does not suffice, tell the passengers with insufficient documentation to go home before they are flown internationally.

In my opinion (and obviously I am biased), my errors were far less in extremity than American Airline's. We are looking for financial restitution for airfare, differences in the rate at the hotel between December and February (the rates are about $2000 higher), and coverage of any expenses we had to incur in Florida. Although I'd like American Airlines to cover any expense that this vacation will cause us, it seems very unlikely to me.

I am seeking any kinds of advice towards dealing with American Airlines before they come to a decision of our resolution, and potentially after the decision, if it is unsatisfactory. I am looking to not take legal action, but if I must, then I do not have a problem doing so. This is the most obvious choice to me, so I am looking for some alternatives.

If anyone has anymore questions about the situation please feel free to ask, and please feel free to have me clarify anything else.

My email is -snip-.

[ Edit: Sorry, no email addresses please... ]

2. Posted by urbancow (Full Member 47 posts) 10y

You should read the back of your tickets, bc im confident it absolves AA of any failure on your part to not have proper documentation. A airplane ticket is a type of contract that will typically supersede any oral statements from AA personel.

3. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 10y

I hear you!!

Had a similar occurence last year when travelling from Norway to Bali, Indonesia. Unlike Norwegians, I was travelling on a Dutch passport and aparantly needed a visa for Indonesia due to a change in legislation. The travel agent didn't tell me (just assuming I was Norwegian when booking) and I didn't check (this is a dumb mistake that I fully acknowledge!) the visa requirements.

Anyway, I was checked in by British Airways at Oslo for the flights which were on Qantas (BA being their ground-handling partner in Oslo). No one checked the visa (which I have been told they should - just like in your situation) and the first I ever found out about the problem was 20 odd hours later in Indonesia at the airport... my options there were to bribe an official or be deported to Australia which I ended up doing. After an uneventful 24 hours in Darwin, I had the required paperwork and new ticket and flew back to Bali.

There's a few things that p**d me off about this situation.

  • my own stupidity
  • the fact that they let me on the plane in Oslo. If they hadn't, I would have gotten the visa in Norway, saving me a ton of money on extra flights and accommodation (I had to pay for all this myself - I think you're lucky to have gotten that paid for!) and naturally a deal of stress after a 20 hour flight that you just don't want to have.
  • the fact that Qantas in Bali just grabbed my ticket from me and removed the ticket stub for the next leg of my journey to cover the 'deportation flight' to Darwin without any consent from my side. My next leg was actually going to be to Sydney so a flight which is twice as long as the flight to Darwin was removed to 'pay' for a much shorter flight. A return flight to Darwin is much cheaper than the flight I had to buy in Darwin which was a one way to Bali and then a one way to Sydney. That's the most annoying fact in my opinion!
  • extra little annoyance is that although I've obviously paid for a flight to Sydney and only flew to Darwin, I don't get any frequent flyer miles for that flight to Sydney that they removed.

I've emailed with Qantas about this and basically they say it's all my fault. I'm only trying to reclaim the difference between the flight to Darwin and the flight to Sydney as well as my frequent flyer miles and basically it's a no go (the woman answering me is a total twit by the way and has basically not answered my last email which I sent about 3 months ago). The amount is too small for me to undertake legal action, also because I don't think I'd get very far as the original mistake was my own. It does give me pleasure to know that they have to pay the Indonesian government a big fine for putting me on the flight in the first place

So, if you want my opinion, I'd say don't bother as I just don't think you're going to get anywhere as it is in essence your own mistake. But if you do go for it and it works out, I'd be very happy to hear about it :)

4. Posted by sanquar (Full Member 63 posts) 10y

Without trying to sound rude and I know it was your holiday that it was probably well deserved, but why didn't you take responsibility for your own actions.
Did you bother to go to the costa rican embassy web page or consulate to find out the requirements for your trip?

AA is a carrier. When I catch public transport, I don't count on the bus driver to give me opening times for the library. He might know, but if I ask he, he tells me and he's wrong, my bad luck. Life isn't fair.

Unfortunately it happened you and yours, but I bet you don't make the same mistake again and your misfortune being told here may stop others ending up in the same situation. You may be able to take consolation in that...

Cheers,

5. Posted by mally (Respected Member 199 posts) 10y

no matter what you hear - take a valid passport plus photo copys. companys will tell you anything to get your money. trust only yourself. in dought ask the embassys.

6. Posted by MerB (Full Member 147 posts) 10y

Quoting sanquar

Without trying to sound rude and I know it was your holiday that it was probably well deserved, but why didn't you take responsibility for your own actions.
Did you bother to go to the costa rican embassy web page or consulate to find out the requirements for your trip?

AA is a carrier. When I catch public transport, I don't count on the bus driver to give me opening times for the library. He might know, but if I ask he, he tells me and he's wrong, my bad luck. Life isn't fair.

Cheers,

Well I think that's a bit harsh because it strikes me that ZR isn't a frequent/very experienced traveller, and you obviously are. Remember everything seems normal natural and logical to you when you've done it often enough.

7. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 10y

I live in Central America

All minor children under 18 traveling with parents or adult guardians, natives or foreign visitors alike, now require passports because of the trafficking of children for adoption and worse that was going on in the region before 2003 when the laws were passed, even if you have a baby the baby needs a passport before most countries will admit you..don't feel bad..now a lot of young children are not bought and sold as before.

8. Posted by sanquar (Full Member 63 posts) 10y

MerB,

I empathise with the poster, but I was harsh and make no appologies for it. People in all walks of life need to take responsibility for themselves. It's all too easy to blame others and go see a lawyer in a "no win no pay" litigation. Blame others when you sherk your responsiblity. Ignorance is not an excuse. Ignorance can get you dead in a very short time.
With all rights come RESPONSIBILITY. If you earn the right to go to another country, drive a car, etc, then you have responsiblities to go with it.

How did ZR come to the conclusion about Costa Rica? Read about it? You'd think if research was done on the location, official requirements would be up there too. Obviously not.

What would you say to someone who went to the Himalayas in just a track suit and a button up jumper because the travel agent said it would be a little bit cold so take a sweater.

It is a very sad situation for ZR, but ultimately this is life, not a game and often with the the best laid plans you can still lose.

Again, I do feel for ZR like I do for my neighbour who didn't read the fine print on the Mortgage papers he signed (and is now paying almost double the advertised interest)but in the end unless someone puts a gun to your head and you are forced to make your actions under duress, you have to put it down to experience..

Cheers,

9. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 10y

Sanguar is right on the money...anyone who wishes to travel to Latin America and needs practical advice (NOT trip planning)may message me. Here in Central America where I live adult citizens (over 18 with cedula or DUI)..document of citizenship...or passport may travel freely between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, however since early 2004 all children under 18 have required a passport and must travel across a border with at least one parent or legally certified adult guardian, by land or by air. Common sense is the best 'cents'...anyone traveling to anywhere for the first time only need message me and I'll tell you how to 'google' all the information you require.
I am a guide, 3 years ago a travel agency in Istanbul sent an associate of mine 43 Turkish travellers with an itinerary for them here in Central America, a "program" designed by some i---- in the agency there who looked at a map and saw how small Central America is, well anyone who can take 43 Turkish Tourists, none of whom understood Spanish from San Salvador, El Salvador to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, crossing a congested border point enroute with 45 forms to fill out in Spanish, in 5 hours I shall award a medal! Took 2 hours just to cross that border, the air conditioning broke down on the bus and these people were angry...always try and do your homework..'know before you go'!!!!! Simple as that.
PS The agency in Turkey stiffed the tour operator in Guatemala for $5,000 since they were sued by the clients when they returned!

10. Posted by GregW (Travel Guru 2635 posts) 10y

Sorry to hear about your issues, ZR. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, and I hope that you have a good time when you return in February.

Quoting ZR

called American Airlines reservations to see what proper documentation my eight year old son needed to enter Costa Rica ... I was ... told that an original birth certificate with a raised seal would suffice.

Bad advice from AA. I would start by contacting them to see if they will admit any error and/or provide a refund: AA Customer Service. Interestingly, AA's website says that U.S. and Canadian citizens require a valid passport for travel to Costa Rica. Given that's opposite of the advice given to you on the phone, they may want to cover their mistake and provide you some compensation.

If that doesn't provide satisfaction, see if the advice they gave you might be covered by legal regulations for carriers or travel agencies by your state or federal government.

For others reading this post, before travelling a good place to look for travel advice, especially on documentation for Americans travelling abroad is travel.state.gov.