I Was Denied Boarding & The Airline Was Completely In The Wrong

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I Was Denied Boarding & Not Allowed To Check In For Flights

I Was Denied Boarding & The Airline Was Completely In The Wrong

I was denied boarding for the first time in my life this week. In fact, I was not even allowed to check in for my flights. The more I analyze this, the less it makes sense. After reading what happened to me, you’ll probably be either confused or angry. Maybe both. Here’s what happened and why I was denied boarding/check in for a recent international flight.

The Flights

My flights were booked with LATAM. Back in March, I saw an alert for an airfare deal from Brazil to multiple European cities with LATAM, so I bought a business class round-trip ticket with cash. A mere $750 for round-trip to Europe! I bought the ticket to Frankfurt knowing full well I wouldn’t use it to go to Germany. However, Frankfurt has a ton of international connections, which I could use to visit countries I haven’t seen yet. Plus, in March, no one thought we’d still be in the situation we’re in with COVID-19.

As COVID-19 dragged on, I assumed my flight would be canceled. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. Since the flight would operate as planned, I had 2 options: reschedule or take a voucher. Given other plans in my life, rescheduling on this same route wasn’t beneficial to me. Taking a $750 voucher from LATAM was completely unappealing. I use LATAM for positioning flights in Brazil pretty often, and these run $40-$50 for a one-way flight. I honestly would never use $750 of credit, and it would get wasted/unused within the time period of the voucher.

Looking at this situation, plus the fact I am not allowed to enter Germany, I booked a ticket to Mauritania in West Africa. I used British Airways avios for flights with Royal Air Maroc. My planned layover in Frankfurt was only 2 hours. I wouldn’t need to enter Germany, go through passport control, nothing, since I had a carry on bag only.

Preparing for my flights before I was denied boarding

Preparing For My Flight

The day before my flight, I took a COVID-19 test and then picked up my results the day of the flight. I had an email from the Frankfurt airport saying my transit was allowed. Also, I had an email from the Frankfurt airport police/border control office saying this was allowed. I also double-checked the official EU Reopening website for transits through Germany, confirming this is permitted. I printed out my onward ticket and went to the airport.

Problems At Check-In

As soon as I arrived to check in, I got the impression they were expecting me. I showed my onward tickets and explained the situation to them. Plus, I repeatedly told them I had no intention to enter Germany and would not need to pass through passport control/customs. I showed them what I had and was told to sit down while they conferred with the boss.

My check-in agent returned saying the boss wouldn’t let me check in. They kept telling me I couldn’t enter Germany, which I understood, but I didn’t need to enter Germany. Unfortunately, everyone I talked to and tried to explain how international transit works simply couldn’t understand. Not kidding, all of them told me they’d never flown internationally. They simply couldn’t get the concept of what I was explaining/doing. Finally, they took me to see the boss.

I Was Denied Boarding/Check-In

The boss. Since this is a family-friendly site, I’ll just say this guy is horrible at his job. He arrived with “no” and had no interest in changing his mind, despite none of his concerns being valid. Here are some of the more infuriating points in our conversation.

Him: “Germany is closed.”
Me: “Yes, that’s why I’m not trying to enter Germany, just transit.”
Him: “But Germany is closed.
Me: “I know, I’m not entering Germany.”
Him: “Germany is closed. You can’t enter.”

Additionally, he asked for proof that I could transit through the airport. I pointed out that his colleague had gone to the Royal Air Maroc website and checked ‘manage my booking’. Using my info, he verified the flight was operating as scheduled and that my ticket was real. No issues there. “But you can’t enter Germany for that flight.” It was like a broken record.

I pointed out that I had emails from the airport and border control saying I could transit.

Why weren’t these acceptable?

Him: “The airport isn’t an official source.”
Me: “The border police are an official source. Here is their email.”
Him: “It’s in English. I don’t speak English.”

Shockingly, he said they didn’t have anyone who could read English. I’m not sure if this is a lie because he didn’t want someone to corroborate my story or if it’s real and an international airport with no English-speaking staff working for the largest operator in South America is a big issue for another time. I asked him to call the airport in São Paulo, where my flight to Frankfurt departed from. Someone there could verify the English message. He refused to do this. He wouldn’t even give me their number or let anyone else look it up for me.

The boss refused to use common sense at all

Boss Becomes Insufferably Pitted Against Common Sense

The most infuriating part came next. This is when I lost my patience. He said he needed an official source of information, but my email from the police didn’t count. He needed something in Portuguese. I went to the EU Reopening website on my phone, which has a Portuguese option.

Me: “This website is in Portuguese. It is the official EU website. An official source.”
Him: “But your phone isn’t an official source.”
Me: “You asked for an official source, and this says airport transit without leaving the airport is permitted. I’m trying to show you.”
Him: “But it has to be on 1 ticket with 1 airline.”
Me: “The rules don’t say that. You are inventing that rule, which is not in their rules. Why are you changing what it says?”
Him: “But you know that’s what they mean, 1 airline only for transit.”
Me: “It doesn’t say that. Here are the rules, you can read them.”

As I attempted to hand him my phone, he actually TURNED HIS BACK to me like a toddler, refusing to allow his eyes to accidentally see something that could confirm my story. He started with “no” and had no intention of changing his mind, even though I had everything necessary to prove that I could transit the Frankfurt airport. The boss simply changed the conversation to require new / different things until he finally just turned around and refused to look at what I had. He also told me he’d never flown internationally and admitted he had no idea how an international transit to a 3rd country works. Yet he was completely unwilling to listen to my explanation. (I lived in Germany for 2.5 years and could explain to him exactly where my flights would be, knowing the terminal quite well. It didn’t matter)

So What Happened After I Was Denied Boarding?

I didn’t want “no show” put in the system, because I might forfeit my ticket. I went to the sales counter, not far from where I’d cussed out the manager just a few seconds prior when he walked away and said he was done talking to me. Don’t get me wrong. I am always nice to service staff. I’ve worked service jobs, and I know they suck a lot of times. However, someone who repeatedly lies, refuses to acknowledge presentation of the information he is requesting, and then turns his back to ignore me when I try to show him the requested proof is not something I expected. After a few choice words within earshot, the sales desk was a bit nervous when I approached.

“Hi, I’m not mad at you. We are fine. He’s just an idiot. What are the fare rules for my ticket since I was denied boarding/not allowed to check in?” After looking in the computer, the sales agent informed me I now had the right to a full refund. Say what?! I took it.

To recap: the boss asked for information that I could provide, refused to look at it, and therefore caused his company to lose $750 cash during an economic crisis for their airline. Congratulations, great move.

I Was Denied Boarding & Not Allowed To Check In For Flights, but I went with another airline the next day

Final Thoughts

LATAM is, unfortunately, a head-scratchingly omnipresent mess in South America. I have to put up with them, because other airlines don’t always provide service when/where you need to go in Brazil. Their horrific disorganization is a constant issue. They hold the record for “most delayed flights in Brazil this year” for the last several years running. I honestly hate LATAM, and this is another reason why. I’m sure I’ll have to swallow my pride and fly LATAM again at some point, but I always choose other airlines whenever possible. The fact I was denied boarding simply because the LATAM boss at my airport refused to acknowledge the existence of information that supported my situation is baffling.

He basically declared all of my supporting documents “fake news” and then turned his back to me when he couldn’t sustain his “that’s not official” argument any longer. He lied and then behaved like a child, I was denied boarding, and then they gave me my money back. I guess he won the battle to preserve his ego (by not changing his mind), but he lost the war of airline business. Real smooth.

And 24 hours later I was on a flight with a different airline. They were super happy to have my booking during this crisis.

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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50 COMMENTS

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50 COMMENTS

  1. I had a similar incident a few years ago with Air Canada in Tel Aviv. I had flown to Israel for (no joke) an ice hockey tournament. Air Canada (not surprisingly) allows checked hockey sticks on board and does not as for anything extra. They are part of your baggage allowance (of which I had 2 for this flight). No problems on the way to Israel.
    On the return, when I checked in they wanted $100 or so as a special equipment fee. I told them this was expressly exempt and they refused to believe me, claimed the inbound flight should have charged me and they made a mistake. I pulled up the Air Canada website and they still refused to budge, first claiming it wasn’t legitimate and then claiming that it didn’t say what it said. They then referred me to a manger in the back who proceed to CALL Air Canada, who confirmed my sticks could board without a fee. They hung up, claimed that person was mistaken, and still told me I had no choice but to pay the fee. Not wanting to miss my flight, I paid the fee, wrote in to Air Canada, and of course they refunded the fee and gave me some points as an apology.

    • I can just imagine the scene. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” the employee grumbles while dialing Air Canada HQ. “The hockey sticks are allowed?? Clearly you’re mistaken” and slams the phone down.

      • It was more Israeli (i.e. passive aggressive). “I’ll call them if you want, but it’s a waste of time, they are going to tell you the same thing I am telling you.” And then “Oh, they are telling you the rules for flying out of Canada. That’s not the same for flying out of Israel.”

  2. LATAM is the only airline which has REFUSED to provide us with a baby seat belt when we travelled around Latin America in 2019!

    Yes, they REFUSED a couple with an almost 2yo infant a child seat belt! Their reason: a child seat belt endangers the child during landing and takeoff… lol…

    This happened on three flights (SCL-LIM return and GIG-GRU). No issues with Avianca which quickly provided us with one without having to request it like any other airlines around the world. We were travelling in business and are long standing One World Emerald members. So glad they are out of OW… Good riddance!!!

  3. How is that flight operating to Germany if it’s closed? Every single passenger is connecting in Germany? That’s a bizarre flight. How’d you buy the ticket if you can’t fly and how is the flight operating. What am I missing here?

    • John – there are likely people taking the flight who have business visas allowing them to enter, residency, etc. or people connecting on 1 ticket which LATAM is OK with.

  4. LATAM is the worst. They got us to Foz de Iguacu two days late with zero compensation, not even an upgrade on the return flights.

  5. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of these power hungry people who can’t admit they really don’t know so they just say no. I was denied boarding back to the USA traveling from Paris by a supervisor that was just an A- hole and had no interest in investigation of what the real rules were. Very frustrating!

  6. I’ve seen the way you bicker and argue with people in the comments section here. So if that’s any indication your posture and demeanor most likely worked against you.

    • David-thabks for commenting. All comments are welcome. I will say again what I said in the article: I was super nice until the boss became a toddler. Since you weren’t there, you can believe me or assume I’m lying. Either way, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • I find it telling that even when prodded by a rather uncivil comment, Ryan doesn’t argue or bicker with you. I say this as someone who has disagreed in the comments with him previously at times.

  7. I have done this exact thing several times in Europe – with separate tickets. People may think you can not but you can and the airline you are boarding has no clue that you didn’t exit and enter back through security, so I don’t know how anyone thinks you couldn’t do that on Ryan Air. We do it in Dublin. Fly from USA to Dublin. Have only a carry on. Follow the connections signs. Go through immigration (because we are entering Europe at this point) and on to our gate. No exiting and security. Since we have checked in on our onward flight and printed tickets or have mobile tickets we are through all of that in a matter of minutes (even changing terminals in Dublin). Officially maybe the answer is you can not but you can and no one cares.

    • Renee – officially, you can, at least in Germany and according to their passport control. The airline’s responsibility is to make sure you are complying with the law to the best of their knowledge. If that means making sure you have a visa for your destination, they should look at it. If you’re going to somewhere and then say you’re actually connecting via a 2nd ticket, leaving immediately, the airline has ensured you will meet the legal requirements by proving you aren’t staying and therefore are good to go. “I’m not entering, here’s proof” is literally all that LATAM needed for them to be legally covered.

  8. You have described something that I worry about every trip, even pre-pandemic. You always risk hitting that one person who decides that there is a rules you’ve never heard of and they will not budge. I remember the first time I really used miles in a complicated manner with positioning flights and transits and the check in desk just wasn’t sure what to do with me(I was flying out of a small, regional airport). However, they were super nice and listened to me when I explained things but I was still nervous.
    I’m sorry about this, but glad that your refund was easy and straight-forward.

  9. This is a classic example of why people are no longer travelling. It is not about Health it is about Bureaucracy. Consumers cannot be bothered to deal with the inane stupidity of some Airlines who have completely failed to get their act together and are in meltdown. Airlines deserve all they are getting at present, disorganisd, deceitful and in denial. Ailines like Latam already had a global reputation for inefficiency, now it just got worse.

    • Exactly this. I’m not worried about a virus that is mild for 98% of people. I had 2 fevers in February from a sinus infection and a slight fever last month. People get sick all the time. It’s normal. Shutting down the world over this is nonsense. I’m not traveling for 2 years because I don’t want to deal with ridiculous mask rules (I wear a mask when out but 8 hours is too much), ridiculous screenings, and all the commotion. How could I enjoy seeing the tourist sights if the same limitations are placed on them. It’s not fun.

      • Jackson – these are the methods in place to slow down the spread and save lives. If you want to travel, this is how we do it now.

  10. Wow that guy was a massive asshole. He should be management at Comcast or something. Props to you on not flipping out worse. Hopefully Roberto and you can manage to get you some fair compensation since that idiot hosed you so badly.

  11. Wow I am so happy you posted horrible disgrace LATAM. I flown all business class London – São Paulo – Santiago de Chile – Los Angeles. I had the most horrible experience with LATAM especially Business class passenger . Never fly LATAM ever since 2017 also I am glad LATAM is no longer with OneWorld alliance.

    • But now they are in SkyTeam, and oneworld has Royal Air Maroc. Not a great trade, since both have bad customer service.

  12. Ok, let’s see. Technically the airline is correct.
    The reason is: technically that was not a transit. The author says he didn’t have any bag to be checked (ok), but didn’t say if he was able to check-in (online) at Royal Air Moroc. What if he had to go to the public check-in counter to do so? He would have to enter Germany. What if his carry-on bag was sent to the hold at the gate and he would have to pick it up in Germany? He would have to enter Germany (because it was not a single ticket all the way to Mauritania, but to Germany only).
    That’s the reason the airport manager said it had to be one ticket only. His contract with Latam was to Germany only and he wouldn’t be allowed to enter there. That’s the main point. The airline could have been understanding and flexible, but didn’t have to.
    Why didn’t the author buy a thru fare Brazil-Mauritania? Because this would be extremely expensive. We are free to make decisions, however we become slaves to their consequences.
    I assume he was boarding at a non-international airport in Brazil, where people don’t speak English and don’t understand about international procedures at all (I am from Brazil countryside and I see that). The manager indeed had a terrible attitude, but at the end he was following rules and he (and the airline) could be penalized if something went wrong in Frankfurt airport. If it was only one ticket, the different airlines would have baggage agreements and would send the bag to the final destination. Moreover, with one ticket, Latam would have responsibility over the whole itinerary. The author tried to go cheap, thus lost the airline’s responsibility.

    • Olavo – I did check in online for RAM and as I stated many times did not need to pass through passport control. There was no reason at all to claim I needed to enter Germany, as stated numerous times. Also stated in the article is that this is an international airport (Belo Horizonte). Many of your questions were addressed, so I’m not sure if you read the article.

      • I read your article fully and I have to say that the airline is correct except the manager is not. Also you could have traveled in this case because of the pandemic not because of your logic presented here. Whether you need to enter Germany or not is not relevant for the airline when you have a ticket with the airline only to Germany. On separate ticket travels you are really at the mercy of the airlines because the airlines require the docs ready for the destination where their ticket ends. I am saying this because I do book many separate tickets and have many first hand experiences with many airlines and most airlines won’t let you board if you don’t have the docs for the entry to the destination for the ticket you have with the prospective airlines. This is because if something goes wrong the airlines are penalized by the destination countries if you get stuck somewhere. Sometimes they lose their slot to operate to the destination. And as someone who has a less powerful passport I always made sure that I understand these rules and comply to avoid any disruption in my travel. In two separate tickets I always get asked about the docs to enter the first stop where the airlines ticket ends. My only exception was Etihad in 2013 where they didn’t ask for my docs for the transit point on two separate tickets but the agent had to ask the supervisor, who was busy with other customers and let me fly. Maybe you didn’t notice as much as me because you have a us passport which entitled you visa free travels to many destinations because check in agents won’t ask for docs for you on separate tickets if your US passport gives the entry permission the transit country. For example if Germany did not close the border due to pandemic they wouldn’t have asked you because of your US passport. Now the reason why you could have traveled in this case is because Frankfurt airport started implementing a flexible rule to transit passengers on separate tickets and started issuing emails like you got one so that people can travel back home transiting through Frankfurt on two separate tickets during the pandemic because many airlines stopped issuing thorough tickets due to the border control restrictions and many people had to buy separate tickets to get home. Even when the Frankfurt airport had this in place in June, it took me five days to get an OK to board from qatar airways to transit in Frankfurt on two separate tickets because qatar airways insisted I had to have an approval to enter Germany even if I am transiting because I was on two separate tickets. That’s the common rule before pandemic and qatar air agents simply followed the old rules but eventually started relaxing it when they encountered so many of them. So it’s not only latam problem per se. I had to involve two embassies and several qatar airways senior management to look into the case to get the OK to board in a similar cases like yours. Again it took five days but it is a lot easier nowadays because they are now familiar with the German transit procedure implemented over the summer. However I am not surprised this manager didn’t know all of these because he doesn’t seem to be very competent to begin with.

        • Ken – the airline’s responsibility is to guarantee you are compliant with the rules at hand. Whether that means entering or passing through. Maybe we differ on where the airline’s responsibility ends, but proving to them that I have full permission to transit in FRA meets their requirements. “The passenger had permission to transit, we met our requirements” should suffice. The fact they wanted to say ‘no’ and therefore wouldn’t accept the border police email is pretty ridiculous. They could’ve just saved a copy of that email and used it to cover their tails later on if there were an issue. They were covered legally, if they’d just be willing to apply a bit of common sense. Instead, it was easier to dig their heads in the sand and lose money.

  13. Hi,
    Latam is an horrible airline and should avoid.
    But what I want to tell you is, I don’t know your status in Brazil, but you can sue them and make them pay for all the harassment.
    I’m saying that because I’m Brazilian working for an European airline and I support Brazilian legal claims.
    Usually airlines operating in Brazil has no chance in the court, especially considering the documentation you have.
    Happy you manage to travel next day and get your money back.

      • oi Ryan,
        como disse, recebo diariamente casos legais de passageiros brasileiros contra a companhia que trabalho, vai desde denied boarding até problemas com IFE. Os juízes sao sempre complacentes se você consegue provar o dano moral e o erro da companhia, principalmente se o processo for no Rio de Janeiro.
        Muitas vezes as companhias nao possuem provas para comprovar que o denied boarding foi devido. No seu caso, mais ainda, pois o funcionário sequer sabia ler as informacoes e injustamente te negaram o embarque. Voce tem provas de que nao pretendia ficar na Alemanha, entao nao havia motivo para pegarem neste ponto.
        Dependendo do valor que você pedir nem precisa de advogado, basta ir a um juizado de pequenas causas. Nao sou advogado, estou apenas te passando pontos das coisas que recebemos e dificilmente conseguimos provar que estávamos certos.

        • Valeu, Roberto. Então acho que, mesmo recebendo reembolso, posso solicitar o valor que eu perdi com ida/volta com Uber e noite de hotel pre-pago que eu perdi. Obrigado pelas dicas e informações.

  14. In general, separate ticketing with budget airlines doesn’t work, like WowAir/RyanAir etc, and they insist on acting like you’re entering the country regardless on if it’s a transit

    Once on Emirates I did have to prove that I was only connecting on a separate ticket (I wasn’t allowed entry to UAE), and they were fine after seeing my other ticket number etc, but this was precovid obviously. If I was flying budget airlines I’m sure I would’ve been denied boarding.

    Now I haven’t seen this happen with major airlines, no, but that’s how LATAM acted here.

    • I agree it can be extra effort on separate tickets, but the sheer volume of documentation was absolutely more than enough, the problem was just a desire to not understand.

  15. Not sure what this has to do with the pandemic. Same garbage different day. This is just your typical tin pot dictator who lorded it over you because he could. No amount of logic or reasoning or proof was going to sway him. All I can say is kudos for not completely losing your cool.

  16. Which airport in Brazil??? Is it comparable to a middle-of-nowhere regional airport in the US that only has domestic flights? I have a feeling though if you departed from Sao Paulo (GRU) or Rio de Janeiro (GIG) the LATAM folks there would have let you board.
    I’m not too familiar with Brazil but I believe in other airports where corruption is rampant you may have been able to bribe/pay the boss some $$ to get him to say yes.

    • Joey – my city has 4mil people and international flights. Also, this dude was the type who would’ve become even more insane if I’d tried to bribe him. Lastly, I’ve never encountered corruption at any airport I’ve been through in Brazil.

  17. Tino.. Why the hate?

    Ryan: I think you went above and beyond with your documentation. I would have stopped after one document. Sad that it did not work out. I suspect I will have my own saga on my trip to BUD in January.
    Sometimes it takes just one jerk to ruin your entire trip

    • From a friend who went to BUD recently, you need to get a permission letter from Hungarian police. If you transit Germany at all, message the airport you’re going through via Twitter and they’ll reply with the email for the border control police station at that airport. They replied to me in less than 5min for the border police.

  18. You have the patients of a saint as I would have told this clown where to go, how to get there, and which exit to take.

    I don’t have the energy to deal with someone who refuses to listen. Being ignorant of something is one thing, being an asshat is another.

    Happy your got your money back. Like you, I’ve always dodged LATAM…and for good reason.

  19. You gambled during a global pandemic and lost. I don’t think you are going to get a lot of sympathy. At least you didn’t get to your third-world destination and be forced to stay there.

    • Having documented proof from the country is not gambling. Showing up with nothing but a hope and a prayer is gambling…

    • Tino – thanks for commenting. However, I’m not sure if you read the article, given your comment about asking for sympathy and gambling.

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