After months of looking forward to a week-long vacation in the mountains outside Hanoi, my family was offloaded—yes, denied travel—because their passports were four days shy of the required six-month passport validity.
We left home early even as we were taking a red eye flight on the only Filipino airline that flies to Hanoi. After an hour’s wait, the counters finally opened and that was when we were told of the six-month validity requirement.
We frantically made calls to verify the information we got. We figured that if they allow passengers whose passports were to expire in less than six months and not less than one to board Hong-Kong bound flights, then we would be allowed to leave as we were assured that Vietnam did not require six months passport validity.
Understandably, the agents at the counter wanted written proof when we told them that we had assurance that we would be allowed entry in Hanoi. But how could I have asked the Vietnamese Embassy officials to send an e-mail at that moment?
We asked why we were sold tickets online despite having received details about when our passports will expire. We were told that we had to fill in those details just so the counter agents do not have to retype them when we check in.
We asked that we at least be allowed to speak to Philippine Immigration officers. When asked why they could not allow us to just board the flight and if denied entry, be allowed back, the duty manager said that their airline would be fined fifty thousand pesos for every passenger who would be denied entry.
Someone mentioned profiling and it sounded like the counter agents needed to do that. There weren’t many people in the queue, so I wondered why no one offered assistance. All they said was that only extensions given by the Department of Foreign Affairs were our only hope, but the DFA had no representatives there. So we just stood there, waiting as if we were refugees waiting for processing.
We went home just as the plane we had expected to board left. It took a few days for us to unpack the luggage we were supposed to check in. The first thing I did the following morning was to call the Embassy of Vietnam to ask about their requirement and I was told that they required only three months.
I had already spoken to an airline official who was so pleasant and courteous. She called me a few times that night and the next few days. I also got feedback from friends—frequent travelers and those in the industry. Another airline representative called and promised to refund our return tickets.
Around the time I got the first phone calls from the airline official, IATA policies came up. I am familiar with IATA because I had worked for a travel agency when I was in college. Founded in Cuba in 1945, the International Air Transport Association is “the prime vehicle for inter-airline cooperation in promoting safe, reliable, secure and economical air services for the benefit of the world’s consumers” http://www.iata.org/about/Pages/history.aspx The site also says that the original organization was founded in The Hague in 1919 when international scheduled services became available.
So, the fifty-thousand-peso fine the duty manager mentioned could very well be the US$1,000.00 fine imposed by IATA. The six-month passport validity is a requirement both of IATA and the Philippine Bureau of Immigration. I sent IATA an email asking which policy would prevail, that of the point of entry or theirs but I have received no reply yet. A friend working as a travel agent in Singapore told me that IATA policy prevails.
That said, I would now like to share the very expensive lessons I learned. Travel is not really for “Every Juan” as the ad says. Not “Every Juan” knows about IATA policies, even if he can afford round-trip plane tickets and hotel accommodations. Buying online is not necessarily more convenient as computers fail to give appropriate and ample warning about passport validity requirements. Once offloaded, not “Every Juan” can get refunds—especially if they have availed of promo flights. Because of such policies, passport validity is effectively shortened by 6 months. This is very important as no warning is given online, so buy only tickets for flights well within 6 months of the date of validity of your passport.
As for profiling, make sure you can prove that you can afford that vacation. While the intent is to prevent human trafficking, there is a fine line separating the intention to protect and the deprivation of one’s constitutional right to travel. The Bureau of Immigration says that at the NAIA Terminal 1 alone, 40 Filipinos are offloaded every day. So, the Bureau of Immigration has set the following requirements for tourists: a passport valid for at least six (6) months, visa when required, and a round-trip ticket during the primary inspection.
Depending on the purpose, a secondary inspection may be necessary and circumstances such as age, educational attainment and financial capability to travel may require additional documents such as an authenticated Affidavit of Support or Letter Invitation that proves relationship within the fourth civil degree, an Affidavit of Undertaking/Guaranty and other documents to support the passenger’s claims. http://www.immigration.gov.ph/index.php/faqs/travel-req
In sum, I do not think it’s the time for “Every Juan” to fly, even if there are no more fuel surcharges. “Every Juan” can fly if “Every Juan” has a voice to protect hard-earned money against non-refundable promo flights, untrained profilers at the counter, clear warnings regarding offloading policies and unhelpful personnel who may not even understand why the rules they enforce were made.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.