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Home San Josť, Costa Rica -  Sunday 05 February 2012

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Family Denied Entry Into Costa Rica For Short Passport Expiry
Family vacation to Costa Rica turns into an "emotional and costly" disaster

Who is responsible, the travel agent or airline? The debate is ongoing, however the reality is that a Kanata, Ontario (Canada) family is out some $6.000 and missed out on their vacation in Costa Rica.

Most countries, including Costa Rica, require as a condition of entry at least three month's expiry on a passport. Some even as much as six.

The Ottawa Citizen tells the tale of Wendy and Dan Patton who on December 31, 2011, and their "emotional and costly" disaster when three of their four passports were deemed invalid by Costa Rican immigration at the Liberia airport, because their arrival date was within three months of the passports' March expiration date. Only Wendy's was valid.. Only Wendy's was valid.

Both the airline, United Airlines and the U.S. travel gent, Travel by Jen, say it is the responsibility of passengers to know about entry rules. Yet, in the same breath, they point fingers at one another for the Pattons' troubles.

And it doesn't appear the couple will get back any of the $6,000 they paid for the holiday.

The travel agent says United should have flagged the problem in Syracuse, where the trip originated. Instead, they were able to fly to Chicago before boarding a flight to Liberia, Costa Rica.

An airline spokesman suggests the travel agent should have made the family aware of the regulation when arranging their holiday.

The agency says the Pattons were advised, albeit in fine print, on their travel documents sent by email. "A valid passport is required now for all passengers (including infants) on all international flights."

But the passports were valid, Wendy argues, at least in Canada where they were issued. How were they supposed to know the passports wouldn't be valid in Costa Rica?

Although not much of a consolation for the Patton family, United faces a hefty fine from Costa Rica, as airlines are required to ensure that visitors into the country have valid documents. In addition, airlines are responsible to make sure that a visitor has travel arrangements out of the country. (see note)

The Pattons, says the Ottawa Citizen, are out of luck. Neither the airline nor the travel agent are budging on heir position and willing to compensate the family.

United's refusal is convenient for the travel agency, Travel by Jen, based in Oceanside, New York, to come up with a promise that it doesn't have to keep. Owner Jen Phillips told The Public Citizen that United owes the family free return flights, and if it does, she would be happy to get the Pattons a credit for the hotel rooms and rental car they booked for their stay.

When Wendy later requested a refund for the hotel and car rental, Travel by Jen said it would have to get back to her.

The Pattons told the Citizen that while they tried to reason with customs officers after they were denied entry: They honestly didn't know about the requirement. They weren't trying to pull a fast one. They were reputable people - Dan, a police officer, and Wendy, a teaching assistant.

The immigration officers didn't care. The calamity got worse.

Wendy says they were treated like criminals. At one point, they were told if they didn't get back on the plane they arrived in, they could spend the night sleeping on the concrete floor, or perhaps visit with police.

Wendy says immigration officers didn't show the family any empathy or courtesy, even when their daughter started hyperventilating over the commotion.

"They wouldn't allow us to call anyone or do anything," says Wendy. "There was nothing."

They were eventually escorted back to the plane, which returned to Chicago that afternoon. Family members were seated separately because the plane was full, and United ran out of food.

Costa Rica, like many countries have a similar three-month validity requirement on foreign passports. But in some countries, it can be as much as six months.

In addition, visitors are required to have a return flight out of Costa Rica (or bus ticket or other means of transport if entering by land).

Airlines are required to ensure that a visitor meets these and other requirements - like the "yellow fever" vaccination for visitors coming from Colombia and other South American countries - before allowing the passenger to board.

While some airlines are strict on checking for these requirements, others like in the foregoing case, are not.





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