“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, VI, El Dorado
On Tuesday, October 17 early, we left home and flew to New York’s JFK Airport. We had several hours to wait there; and then, at 6 pm we presented ourselves to Norwegian Air in order to check in for their late flight to Paris CDG.
Before I continue, there are two details I must mention. First, although it is not the most convenient for us, we have had excellent experiences previously on several journeys with Norwegian in terms of comfort and value for money. Second, we had not booked our return journey, simply because we wanted to be flexible as to our arrangements. Maybe we would return via London (depending on the availability of friends to meet us there). Or maybe we would go to Madeira or Budapest on the way home.
Norwegian refused to allow us to board their flight on that Tuesday night — even though our tickets were paid for and in order. Their gate agent consulted a surly young man, wearing a shirt that proclaimed him as representing the “Aviation Port Services”, whatever that might be. He said, first, that our passports were unacceptable because they expire on March 16, 2018. By my reckoning, that meant that they had five months’ validity. No, he said, they had to have at least six months’ validity after our planned return date — and, since we had no return date or tickets, he had no certainty that we even planned to return at all. I showed him, nevertheless, our printed-out itinerary (prepared some days previously for friends and colleagues) which stated that we would be home on or about Nov 17. He then departed, taking our passports. He returned only a few minutes later, to say that he had telephoned Paris (really?) — and that, indeed, we would not be allowed to fly. I asked to speak to his supervisor. He said that he himself was the supervisor. I asked to see his ID. He refused.
We were shattered by all this — not to say, being far from young, exhausted by a very long day. But there was nothing we could do.
At this point our son Giles stepped in to help. He immediately arranged a hotel booking for us, and also booked air-tickets (via Detroit) home for us.
So: we cannot now be in France until mid-January at the earliest. Meanwhile, we have renewed our passports. But I still cannot understand why this was necessary now. The old passports stated explicitly that they were valid until March 16, 2018. I know that I am a very simple person who may not have spotted something that is obvious – but I took that to mean that they were valid until March 16, 2018.
I have seen official information from the State Department. With regard to France, it says that a passport “Must be valid for at least three months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area.” Ours were valid for four months after our planned return. But we have always known, over our almost countless visits to France, that it is also true that one may not stay in France for more than 90 days without a visa.
No doubt you can imagine our frustration and disappointment in all this, and our vast concern over the financial expense of all this!
Needless to say, I contacted Norwegian Air. After almost a month, they responded as follows:
Thank you for contacting Norwegian and apologies for the long reply time.
It was with regret to learn of the difficulties you experienced when trying to check-in for your flight from New York to Paris on the 17th of October 2017. Norwegian terms and conditions state the following:
You must make sure you have all the necessary travel documents, including passport and visas, for your journey. We reserve the right to refuse boarding if you can not present a valid form of ID and the necessary travel documents.
You’re responsible for obeying all laws, regulations and other provisions of public authorities related to travel in the countries you’re flying from, to, or in transit through. We’re not liable for any consequences due to a failure to obtain the necessary documents or failure to obey such laws, regulations, requirements or orders.
Nationals of USA needs a visa to travel to France. However, there is visa exemption for nationals of USA with a normal passport for a maximum stay of 90 days. Passengers need to hold a return ticket within 90 days. *
In light of the above information, we are unable to offer you refund of your unused tickets. Should you wish to make a claim, we suggest for you to contact your private travel insurance provider for assistance.
We trust that our response has clarified the reason for our decision. We certainly hope that this experience will not deter you from choosing to include Norwegian in any future travel plans. **
* After countless visit to France I have never previously encountered this requirement. And are they seriously suggesting that no one may travel unless they have cast-iron certainty as to the routes and dates on their return travel?
** They must surely be kidding!
I responded to Norwegian Customer Service as follows:
I have just received your response. It is a source of great distress and dismay to us. Please consider the following points:
We have lived in the USA for 37 years, and during this time we have made at least FIFTY round trips to Europe — and a situation like this has never previously arisen.
I am a retired priest, aged 83 years. (My wife is aged 76.) This means, I would suggest, (a) that we are most unlikely to be the kind of people who would engage in deliberately unlawful behavior; and (b) that our age means that we have to live on a tiny pension. In these circumstances, are you contending that it is just, reasonable and appropriate that Norwegian should retain $1200 for services it did NOT provide?
In addition to this, we have had to deal with the cost of our flights between DFW and JFK, the cost of booked – but, in the event, unusable — French rail tickets, and as well as the unavoidable cost of a hotel at JFK.
We have crossed the Atlantic twice previously on Norwegian — and I believe that you must therefore have in your profile system a record of our passport information, and so on. But at no point did you warn us, in advance, of the problem associated with deferring our return booking.
At no point was there any question as to our return date: this was clearly indicated on the itinerary details that I had printed several days before leaving home, for family and colleagues. I showed this to the agent at JFK Airport, but he chose to ignore it.
The simple fact of the matter is that we planned to go to France for about three weeks, and then — IF suitable and affordable flights could be found (Transavia, perhaps) to go for a few days to Madeira. From there we would have returned to London on EasytJet — again, IF a suitable flight could be found, and IF family and friends would be available to meet us during a brief stop-over in London.
IF these plans had not worked out, we would have omitted the Madeira part of our travel plans and would therefore have returned to the USA via Paris CDG.
You will note that the word “IF” appears FOUR times. In other words, our initial booking on Norwegian for travel to Paris was made before any return plans could have been made. Surely these circumstances are not exceptional: there must be many who travel without detailed plans and bookings for return.
Our passports were valid for about five months following our planned outward journey. In the plain use of language, the fact that they did not expire until mid-March means that they were “valid” until then.
As I mentioned previously, we have greatly enjoyed and appreciated the value and comfort of our previous flights on Norwegian — but, alas, we are deterred from any further flights on Norwegian. We have recommended Norwegian widely among friends, colleagues and family; and we have passed on supportive articles and press-cuttings. We will now revise these assessments.
Finally, I do not blame Norwegian Air itself for following regulations (obscure, confusing and relatively inaccessible as they are) — but I do lament the hard, unsympathetic, unscrupulous attitude which you have shown to us – your hitherto loyal, but now defenseless, customers.