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... ]