Common Travel Agent Professional Liability Claims: Passports & Visas
by Kenneth F. Whitman, Esq., Aon Affinity Travel Practice Senior Program Manager
Passport and visa errors are some of the most common mistakes that travel agents and tour operators make while conducting business.
The Travel Agents Professional Liability Insurance policy offered through Aon Affinity Travel Practice will cover most of these mistakes.
These incidents can be quite costly to you and your travel business, requiring last-minute efforts to salvage a potentially ruined trip, tour or adventure. Expenses to your agency or travel company can include:
- additional lodging or accommodations;
- alternative airfare (often same class is not available);
- additional meals;
- transportation to passport office or embassy;
- the cost of expediting travel documents; and/or
- other miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses to resolve errors.
Aon’s claim staff is experienced at resolving these types of issues, understands how easily they can occur, has compassion for your customers’ concerns, and knows how to assist you in resolving the problem in an effective, timely and reasonable fashion.
During this trying time, we provide claims assistance and reimbursement through the errors and omissions part of your Professional Liability Insurance policy. The result is the least possible impact on your business’ reputation and your customer relations.
The most common mistakes occur when the agent fails to advise its customers of the need for a passport or visa for travel to another country.
When legal disputes arise over these types of issues, courts have generally found an obligation on the travel agent or advisor to provide this information. The simple premise behind this principle is that a customer has come to you based on their reliance on your expertise in arranging travel.
In these cases, it has been held that information concerning entry or visa requirements into foreign lands is basic to the sale of travel arrangements and the seller of these services is obliged, as a matter of law, to furnish this information to its customers.
While a dispute may arise out of the failure to advise about the need for a passport or visa, there are several other ways a travel advisor can get into trouble.
Other Passport and Visa Pitfalls
Sufficient Expiration – The U.S. State Department recommends that all travelers’ passports remain valid for six months beyond their expected return date. Airlines have refused boarding to travelers on flights to certain countries based on their immigration requirements. Failure to advise your customers of the applicable requirements may result in you being responsible for the costs of alternate arrangements, out-of-pocket expenses, and damages associated with lost time or trip components.
Sufficient Blank Pages in Passport Book – The U.S. State Department recommends that all travelers’ passports have a minimum of at least two blank pages left or travel may be refused to certain countries. There is an expectation that as their travel agent or advisor, you would inform them of this requirement.
Never Assume Your Customer and All Travelers in the Party are U.S. Citizens – Visa requirements vary by the citizenship of the traveler. Frequently, agents assume that all members of a party are U.S. citizens and fail to advise them of the need to secure a visa for a non-U.S. citizen to travel to a particular country.
Intermediate Stops in Non-Destination Countries Which May Require Additional Visas – Under certain circumstances an itinerary may involve your customer traveling through an intermediate country that may require a visa despite none being required for their ultimate destination.
Passport and Visa Risk Management & Best Practice
- Continuously check and monitor the U.S. State Department website at www.Travel.State.Gov for your customers’ passport and visa requirements.
- Continuously check and monitor the U.S. Embassy website of the specific countries your customers will be traveling to, for up-to-date visa requirements.
- Include a provision in your Terms and Conditions specifically for passports and visas, disclaiming responsibility. If you intend to disclaim all responsibility for these requirements, your Terms and Conditions should specifically indicate that it is the traveler’s responsibility to research and determine the specific requirements of each destination under their specific personal circumstances. Since this is normally a service that the public would expect of their travel agent or travel advisor, having the client sign off on this requirement is a best practice.
- Your Terms and Conditions should include language regarding visas specifically indicating that your company does not provide these services. It’s the travelers responsibility to secure a visa and/or consult a visa service sufficiently in advance of their trip to allow them to secure the necessary documentation in advance of their travel dates.
- Have a conversation with your customer regarding passport and visa requirements despite it being addressed in your Terms and Conditions. For some courts, it may not be sufficient that these disclaimers or responsibility statement are buried somewhere in your Terms and Conditions. It is important enough that it should be discussed with your client at the time of the booking.
- If you are discussing visa requirements with your clients, always be sure to confirm their country of citizenship. Customers that appear to be U.S. citizens, who have no discernible foreign accent, may in fact be citizens of other foreign countries.
- Keep your Professional Liability policy in force. We are all human. Mistakes happen.