How Much Should Airlines Educate Passengers About ESTA (and Other Visa Requirements)?

When checking in for the inaugural AirAsia X flight to Honolulu – also the first flight of an Asian low-cost carrier to the United States – the passenger checking in next to me had no idea what ESTA was.

Later on, at the gate, I learned that four passengers in total didn’t have ESTA. Given that the flight was mostly full and the aircraft had 377 seats, roughly 1% of passengers did not have it.

Luckily, it seems like all of those passengers were able to get the ESTA approved before their departure. In fact, in most instances, it is approved instantly.

However, in some instances it might take a bit longer. If that had been the case with either of those passengers, they would have missed their flight and their holidays would end up being a disaster.

AirAsia X Check-In

Should Airlines Educate Passengers About Visa Requirements?

That made me think about how far an airline should go to educate its passengers about visa requirements during the booking process.

On one hand, I understand that it is the passengers’ responsibility to check what the required travel document requirements are. And I absolutely agree with that. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and so it is hard to “teach” every passenger about their personal requirements.

On the other hand, if any of the four people missed their flight, they would have, probably, placed at least a bit of blame on the airline. Even though it would not have been the airline’s fault at all.

How Much Should Airlines Educate Passengers About ESTA (and Other Visa Requirements)?

How About Stressing Some of the Requirements Just for “High Risk” Routes?

Personally, while I think that on most routes, there is no need to go beyond what the airlines are already doing, I also think some routes deserve “special attention.”

And, the AirAsia X route to Honolulu – as well as the upcoming Scoot route to Honolulu – would be one example of that.

Both of the airlines are the “pioneers” in the Asia to the US low-cost market. As such, there are likely more “inexperienced” flyers booking those flights. After all, that is the great part of these new routes. They allow people who would not have had the ability to visit Hawaii or the US before to go there at relatively cheap prices.

With that in mind, I think it would be nice if, during the booking process, there was a screen or banner or pop-up that stood out mentioning the need to have ESTA. As far as I remember, there was nothing like that.

And, as I mention above, while I understand that it is not the airline’s responsibility, I think it would be great having it there even if it prevented just one passenger from missing his or her flight – or even from having to go through the ESTA process right before the flight.


What do you think? How far do you think airlines should go in educating passengers about specific visa requirements?

Have you run into any statistics on what percentage of passengers forgets do do ESTA prior to their flight?

Should there be “special” cases like the above where they should go a bit further and be a bit more “vocal” about those requirements?

4 thoughts on “How Much Should Airlines Educate Passengers About ESTA (and Other Visa Requirements)?”

  1. A friend once got to the airport and wasn’t allowed on his flight because he didn’t have a returning ticket (I believe it was to Brazil, not 100% sure). Could have been avoided.. But there are so many VISA cases with the hundreds of nationality – destination pairs that I don’t see how an airline could inform each passenger regarding their perticular situation.

    Although it shouldn’t be the airline’s responsibility, a little reminder in the form of an additional page requiring a “Next” click during booking, or online check-in, reminding the Visa requirement on “high risk” routes certainly doesn’t hurt.

  2. While I agree that it is a passenger’s responsibility to check Visa requirements for their destination, I firmly believe that it is the airline’s responsibility to inform passengers about the ESTA when simply transiting through the US.
    My partner and I were supposed to fly to New Zealand yesterday with a change at Houston. We regularly fly to NZ through all sorts of countries, never having required a Visa for transiting. No one had informed us about the need for an ESTA and we were denied boarding.
    I understand that the (ridiculous self-righteous) ESTA rules are not those of the airline. But I put the blame entirely with the airline in this situation.

  3. I missed my flight to a very important conference for big prize money today – I’ve never even heard of an ESTA! I applied for the “eTA” to get to Canada but I didn’t think it would be a big deal just transiting through a country. Not even professional travel agents etc. mentioned it to me.

    I think it’s crazy that this is not flagged loud and clear for any flight that passes through the US. It is a simple few lines of code to make an automated message… pay a software developer a few bucks and save 1000s of people this worst nightmare scenario… I am so distraught right now. I can’t even express how horrible of a situation this has been for me…

  4. Dr Stephen Games

    I hadn’t heard about ESTA before my daughter was not allowed to board a Virgin flight from LHR to NYC this morning. As result neither of us flew. Virgin says it has no obligation to inform fliers; the travel agent––says the same. Presumably the US Visa section, where I had to go for a visa interview two weeks ago and to whom I had to declare that my daughter would be travelling with me, would also deny responsibility. Cost to me of not flying: nearly £1,000, plus inability to get to planned business meetings.

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