'Transit visa' rule draws flak

DUBAI - With the holiday season in full swing, passengers travelling to destinations with transit stop-overs are facing a tough time due to the mandatory visa regulations applying to them, irrespective of whether they actually visit the country of transit or not.

By Prerna Suri

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Published: Sat 10 Jul 2004, 9:55 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:46 PM

Passengers travelling on certain non-stop flights bound for countries such as New Zealand, for instance, require the use of airports in other countries, such as Australia, for refuelling purposes and would in most likelihood not disembark from their flight.

Travel agents and airline officials say that the 'Direct Air Flight Transit Visa' rule, as it is called, has hit them hard as passengers are preferring to go through other airlines, which do not require stop-overs at these countries, discarding the need for an additional visa application.

Said K. Sridhar, Leisure Development Manager at Thomas Cook Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays: "Our business has been significantly affected by this particular rule as there are very few airlines which offer non-stop flights to countries such as New Zealand and almost all other options require a stop-over in another country, facilitating the need for the application of a transit visa.

"The main problem is that there are many ambiguities in information from both the part of the airlines as well as the embassies leading to confusion amongst the passengers."

Mr Sridhar said that there were cases in the past where passengers were sent back from a country of transit as they were not aware of the visa rule.

"There are lots of dark areas which need working on as different rules apply to different countries. For instance, almost all flights operating to America with stop-overs in Europe require that the passenger applies for a transit visa in the country of transit. Many passenger disputes have taken place in the past, where people were unaware about the transit visa rule and had to be sent back," he said.

Citing the transit rule as cumbersome and unnecessary, S.B. Mohan, a businessman, said that he deliberately chose a different airline, which operated, from the Far East in order to avoid applying for a separate visa.

"I had to travel to New Zealand due to an emergency, and decided to take a non-stop flight. But after I came to know that I would have to apply for a transit visa to Australia as the plane would land there for re-fuelling, I decided to travel through another airline as it would take at least three to four days for the visa to be processed, the time which I did not have."

Australian officials say that there is a need for transit passengers to apply for a visa as there may be a possibility that the passenger may have to disembark due to some technical fault or some other problem.

Peter Linford, Consul General and Senior Trade Commissioner at the Australian Trade Commission, said: "A transit visa is required as there is a distinct possibility that the passenger may have to disembark at the airport and we would not want them to face any inconvenience at that time.

"There are also certain countries which do not have stringent screening procedures as we do and hence the need for a transit visa."

Royal Brunei Airlines, which operates three flights a week to New Zealand via Brunei with a transit in Brisbane, says that their passenger traffic has been affected by the transit visa rule to a certain degree.

"The transit visa rule is definitely affecting passengers' decision to travel through certain countries as they would think twice before actually applying for a separate visa, which would involve both additional time and money.

"We have had cases where passengers chose to cancel their bookings with us and preferred travelling by some other route to avoid applying for a visa," said Mohammed Irfan Siddiqui, Area Coordinator - UAE and India, Royal Brunei Airlines. Mr Sridhar advised passengers to apply for a transit visa as there are no fixed rules regarding this issue.

"Since there are no concrete guidelines framed by the authorities for travel agents to work on, we generally advise all our clients to apply for a transit visa to prevent them from being detained at the airport or in some cases, sent back," he said. Mr Linford also urged applicants to file their applications as early as possible to avoid disappointment as the peak season was on.

"I would advise people to lodge their visa applications early and depending on a number of other factors, they may be able to receive their visa within a few days," said Mr Linford.

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