Saturday 18 November 2017

'You will likely be up the creek without a paddle' - Irish dad's warning after 15 hours in Dublin Airport during visa mix-up

Michael with his children in Temple Bar the day before they were due to fly to Munich
Michael with his children in Temple Bar the day before they were due to fly to Munich

Kathy Armstrong

A family's dream holiday was thrown into turmoil and they claim they were left "stranded" at Dublin Airport after they did not have their visas printed on time.

Michael McCormack has shared his "cautionary tale" in the hope it will help other holiday-makers to avoid the same disappointment.

Michael - who is originally from Co Clare but is based in New Zealand - spent four weeks here earlier this summer visiting relatives with his wife and their three children.

They were due to fly with Lufthansa airlines to Munich from Dublin on June 16 to catch a connecting flight to Vancouver, they were planning to spend a few days there before returning home to Wellington.

Their plans were thrown into chaos though when they arrived at Dublin Airport and were told they didn't have the correct Electronic Travel Authorization visa to enter Canada.

Mr McCormack (44) told Independent.ie: "Everything turned to custard at Dublin Airport.

"The check-in lady could not figure out what was wrong with our passports, swiping them over and over through her keyboard while waiting to catch the attention of her more experienced colleagues.

"It took some fifteen minutes before we were told the problem - we did not have visas to go to Canada. This was when our hearts stopped.

Michael on the phone to Lufthansa in the airport
Michael on the phone to Lufthansa in the airport

"We were told we needed an eTA . I asked if we could do it while waiting in Munich but I was told the system would not allow us to board in Dublin without it."

He continued to say that the family did everything they could to download their visas in time to board.

He said: "We went into urgent, adrenaline-filled, panic-stations, tapping in to Dublin Airport Wi-Fi and frantically trying to download visas on our mobile phones.

"We un-confiscated our teenage son’s iPod and enlisted his help.

"Within 30 minutes we had downloaded visas for all five family members – an experience in fumbling, glitches and stress I never wish to experience again.

"We rushed back to the check in desk, ten feet away, apologising to passengers for pushing ahead, but we were told we were too late; they had closed check-in for the flight. The flight had started boarding."

Mr McCormack claims that the airport staff were unhelpful and he was annoyed that Lufthansa do not have a help desk in the building.

He said: "All our pleading did nothing to convince airport staff to help. They shrugged and said it was not their fault we did not have visas on time.

"They told us we needed to speak to Lufthansa and that there were no Lufthansa staff in Dublin Airport.

"Instead they dialled a number and handed us the phone to plead our case, little did we realize they had phoned a Lufthansa Call Centre.

"The voice on the phone was trying to get Dublin staff to cancel a ‘no-show’ flag on our flight. Staff said they could not cancel this as they did not have access to the system."

Michael and his son while they were trying to download their visas
Michael and his son while they were trying to download their visas

As they had booked all of their flights in a "locked deal", the others had also been cancelled.

He said: "While pleading for assistance all our flights back to New Zealand were cancelled.

"I remember turning to my wife and saying, 'They have just cancelled all our flights because they say we have not shown up!' It was surreal.

"The airline even cancelled our flights three days in the future - the one from Vancouver to Wellington - all because we had ‘missed’ our flight to "Munich.

"Staff at the desk smiled apathetically saying that they could not change the system.

"Lufthansa, after many hours on the phone, eventually told us that they could fly us back on empty seats the next day if we pay five times the price of our original ticket. It was like a kick in the guts."

After fifteen hours in the airport, the family managed to book flights directly to New Zealand with Emirates.

He noted that it would put him off using Dublin Airport again.

He said: "This experience has definitely put us right off both flying into Dublin and flying Lufthansa.

"We chose Lufthansa to fly with because we didn’t particularly want to fly via the Middle East or the USA . They offered a fantastic route from Wellington – Singapore – Frankfurt -Dublin and returning  Dublin- Munich –Vancouver – New Zealand using their airline partners.

"But we ended up flying home via Dubai anyway!

"Next time we will fly Air New Zealand again who fly into London and take Aer Lingus to Shannon, I’ve learned my lesson.

"We all found Dublin Airport to be charmless. The only thing that made it alright was a pint of Smithwick's Blonde Ale at the end once we were absolutely certain we were going home on a flight that evening."

He alleges when they were home his travel agent said that the visa requirements were on page six of his itinerary.

Mr McCormack said: "Important travel requirements need to be highlighted rather than put in the small print."

He has also contacted Dublin Airport Police to try and obtain CCTV footage to prove that his family did show up for the flight but he was told they didn't have it.

He also shared some advice for other travellers about the importance of reading the small print.

He said: "Please accept my cautionary tale that if you book multiple flights on a round the world trip and miss one single one, you will likely be up the creek without a paddle and likely will not be provided meaningful assistance from any person or organisation.

"Hopefully you will have enough credit left on your card, at the end of your holiday, to save the day from total failure."

A spokeswoman for Dublin Airport said that the contract is between Mr McCormack and Lufthansa and declined to comment further.

A spoeksman for Lufthansa said:

“Lufthansa, like all other airlines, provide clear advice to everyone making flight bookings that it is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure they have any valid visa and passport documentation required for the countries they are visiting. This is part of the terms and conditions of bookings as well as being freely available on our website.

"The conditions of entry to any country are decided by individual governments. Airlines are bound by international law to ensure that travelling passengers are in possession of the correct documentation and our check-in staff have no option other than to refuse boarding to passengers who do not have this.

"Passengers are also advised to arrive at Dublin Airport as early as possible as check-in for the flight closes 40 minutes before departure. Check-in staff call the Lufthansa remote ticketing centre for assistance/clarification in such cases."

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