Travel Troubleshooter: Dispute over a chewed passport

06/24/2012 12:00 AM

06/21/2012 5:39 PM

My husband and I were scheduled to take a Spirit Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to San Jose, Costa Rica. The afternoon before my flight, my dog chewed a corner off the front page of my husband's passport and we were concerned about having proper documentation.

We arrived at the airport early in order to have enough time to ask a ticket agent. He seemed seasoned and professional, and he assured us that there would be no problem with the passport, as the number could still be manually inputted.

We asked him to make sure with the proper authorities, as we did not want to have a problem once we arrived in Costa Rica or returning from Costa Rica. We were prepared to change the flight. The ticket agent assured us that there would be "absolutely no reason for concern." When we arrived in San Jose about 2:30 a.m. we were denied admission by Costa Rican immigration and told to return. We were back in Fort Lauderdale by 5 a.m.

I called and wrote to Spirit asking for a voucher for a return trip, as I feel they were responsible under the circumstances. Had their agent not assured us, we would not have boarded the flight.

Spirit has declined our request stating that proper documentation is our responsibility. That may be true, but they also have a responsibility to board only those passengers that are properly documented.

I don't think my request for a voucher that would allow us to make the trip to Costa Rica to be unreasonable. What do you think?

– Olga Parra, Boca Raton, Fla.

The dog ate your passport? Seriously? That's a new one. Maybe he didn't want you to go on vacation.

I think you're right. If Spirit assured you that your passport was acceptable and allowed you to board, it bears some responsibility for your denied entry.

A quick look at the State Department's website will reveal the information you need. On Costa Rica's page (http:// travel.state.gov/travel/cis–pa–tw/cis/cis–1093.html) there's a clear warning that, "Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican Immigration may deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way."

I wouldn't take an airline employee's word for it unless you're talking about airline policy.

As it turns out, he had relied on inaccurate information from another website when he gave you the assurances that you could enter Costa Rica with a damaged passport. It wasn't an official source, so Spirit bears at least some of the responsibility for allowing you to board its flight without proper documentation.

I contacted the airline on your behalf. It apologized to you and said it would implement a new policy "for the benefit of other travelers" when it comes to documentation requirements.

Spirit issued two flight vouchers to make up for the trouble.

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