Transit Visa Troubles

March 11, 2019

in Odds & Ends Stories

On the 12th of March my wife and I are going to visit my home in the United States. For the first time in my life I decided to go all out and really enjoy my trip, so I booked our flight business class. I booked our flight though CheapOair with British Airways which seemed to be the least expensive. Boy was I wrong…

We had waited until my wife had secured her US visa before I planned our itinerary for our trip. Believing that all the legal matters were taken care of, I proceeded to make all the reservations needed for our wonderful trip – hotels, car, other flight, etc.

At this point it was suggested to me that because my wife is Thai and has a Thai passport, and we will need to go from one airport to another one in London, she MAY need a transit visa to do so. With only about 25 days until we leave, this is where the frustration, the anxiety, the sleepless nights, and a complete fiasco started.

I set out to find out if she needed the transit visa just to go from one airport to the other. First I went to about five different chat sites with this question. All I got was, “Not sure,” “You should get one to be safe,” referrals to other sites, and on and on; a lot of contradictions but no direct answer.

I went on the GOV. UK site. It said:

“Transiting without a visa.
You might be eligible for ‘transit without visa’ if:
• you arrive and depart by air
• have a confirmed onward flight that leaves on the day you arrive or before midnight on the day after you arrive
• have the correct documents for your destination (e.g. a visa for that country).
You must also:
• be travelling to (or on part of a reasonable journey to) Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the USA and have a valid visa for that country.”

My wife fits all that criteria, but it says “might.” It also says:

“You’re going through UK border control. Apply for a Direct Airside Transit visa (DATV) if you’ll be changing flights in the UK and will not be going through UK border control.”

But it is not specific if going from one airport to the other is considered going through UK border control. I tried to look further into the GOV.UK site for a more specific answer, but it just sent me back and forth to the same pages.

I called the British embassy in Thailand and was told that she did not know the answer and that I should call the airline. I called British Airways and was told she did not know and that I should contact the British embassy. I called British Emigration and got a machine that gave their hours of operation. Since I had no idea what time zone they are in, that did me no good at all.

So with only 17 days left I called a visa agent in Bangkok, and paid her $300 to apply for a transit visa for my wife. The next day my wife had to travel 2.5 hours to Bangkok and 2.5 hours back to interview at the British embassy, where they charged her $300 more to expedite her visa. I want to thank CheapOair and British Airways for all of this trouble and extra expense you have cost me. What looked like the least expensive flight has turned out to be almost the most expensive, and definitely the most troublesome.

When I saw that I had to change airports in London, I had no idea how much trouble it was going cause me. That I was going to be in a city thousands of miles from home I have never been to before on my own to get from one airport to another 40 miles away. That I would be required to go through customs two more times to pick up my luggage and recheck it, and that I would need to get my wife an additional visa.

When I book a flight from point A to point B, I expect it to get me there without any of this inconvenience to me. Especially when I have paid as much as I did for this flight. My flight was $9080. That was the best price offered for where I wanted to go. But now my wife’s trip to Bangkok cost $125 for a visa interview, $300 for a visa agent, $300 to the British embassy to expedite her visa, $73 for a hotel in London, $65 for transportation from one airport to the other, $65 dollars for meals, and $30 for tipping bellhops at both airports and the hotel. It adds up to $9973. That’s what it is costing me now. At that price I could have gotten a more direct flight, without the challenge of going from airport to airport. I could have gotten a flight that would have taken a lot less time. It has never taken me more than 25 hours to make this trip before, and I make it about 2 times a year.

By the way, we only have 8 days before we are scheduled to leave and we still don’t have my wife’s transit visa, and British Emigration has her passport. If we don’t get it by the 11th I will lose everything I have invested, about $18,000. What was to be the best traveling experience of my life has turned into a real horror show.

– Ellis A Woodcock Jr

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer March 18, 2019 at 4:51 pm

I generally recommend not crossing London and not going through LHR to connect if at all possible, especially if you have to go through customs.

LGW advertises itself as much more convenient to central London than it is. LUT isn't in London at all. And while LCY isn't as bad for randomly closing and rerouting everyone to Birmingham as it used to be…

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CMR April 6, 2019 at 5:20 pm

I don't really understand your frustration at British Airways or the third party site you booked on. It's not like they forced you to pay for business class or choose that particular flight. Whenever you decide to travel internationally, if you have a separate stopover in a third country, you are always going to at risk of needing additional documentation or visas to complete your travel.

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