When we flew into Uruguay for the first time, we bought one-way tickets and didn’t have any problems whatsoever (May 2009). This past week I flew back to the US to pick up some stuff we had in storage and came home. I discovered that flying round trip out of Uruguay and back is a lot harder than one might think… if you do not have a Visa or a return ticket to the US.
Here is the background on my flight. I flew out of Montevideo on TAM connecting in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Upon arriving in Sao Paulo, I checked in with Delta to fly into Los Angeles (LAX). On my return flight from LAX to Montevideo, I was scheduled to fly Delta from LAX to Sao Paulo, and connect with Pluna in Sao Paulo for my flight to Montevideo.
Wow did I have an experience with Delta Airlines at LAX. Mind you, I called Delta earlier that day to confirm my flight and to see if they would accept a debit card to pay for my excess baggage, or if I needed cash (they accept plastic). No questions or issues about my flight were raised on that call…
I arrived at LAX 3 ½ hours prior to my scheduled departure time. After waiting in line for 45 minutes at the Delta counter, the agent asked me to step forward. The agent saw that my flight was to Brazil and asked me for my Visa. I told him that I was just connecting there, and that I was heading to Montevideo, Uruguay. He then asked for my Visa for Uruguay. I told him that I was on a tourist pass to Uruguay and that I could stay for 90 days without a Visa. He did not agree and had to check with his supervisors.
Everything checked out with what I said… but the next problem was that I did not have a return ticket back to the US. “Delta can’t verify that you are not going to overstay your visit in Uruguay.” According to Delta, because I did not have a return flight scheduled to the US, I would be required to purchase one. He said, ”It is an old rule we are now vigorously enforcing for any foreign travel.” It made no difference if I was traveling to Uruguay or Canada… the same rules applied.
Finally I said, “I’m just trying to get home to my pregnant wife and infant daughter (as I pulled a picture of Zoë out of my wallet)… Sir, would you please help me get home to them?”
He went back to the supervisor and returned to tell me, “We are going to let you slide on this one… But in the future, if you decide to do a trip like this, you will need a return ticket to the US.” I know the agent was just doing his job, but it’s still frustrating. This is now 10 minutes before my plane is to board as well…
So I got out of LAX. Now on to Sao Paulo… The flight was long, but I was assigned a window seat and the seat next to me was empty, so it wasn’t too bad… I’m pretty sure the agent hooked me up with that.
Leaving Sao Paulo
Upon my arrival in Sao Paulo, I went to check in for my connecting flight. Apparently all of Pluna’s flights were canceled because of a strike. I was informed by the Pluna liaison that they had switched my flight to TAM (which was fine by me, because from my experience TAM has been a great airline to fly on.)
Everything went smoothly with getting my baggage switched from Pluna to TAM (with both agents assisting). The TAM agent printed out my boarding pass, looked through my passport and said, “Where is your Visa for Uruguay?” Here we go again… I told them I didn’t need one.
We went back and forth and they said, “If you do not have a Visa for Uruguay or a return flight to the US, you cannot proceed.” After escalating it to their supervisors, they told me that the ONLY way they would clear me to board the flight to Uruguay was if I bought a return ticket to the US because I didn’t have a Visa.
I asked, “Can I just buy a ticket from Montevideo to Buenos Aires?” They thought about it… It really looked like she was going to say yes when the smile came across her face and she said, “Only if you have another ticket showing you are returning to the US after your trip to Buenos Aires.”
I asked what would happen if I decided not to buy a ticket back to the US… They said because I didn’t have a Visa to enter Brazil, I would have to “wait” until I got a ticket back to the US… in the terminal.
The reason I had to have a return ticket? “Airlines are now starting to get fined for not making sure US citizens have a return ticket back to their country, if the US citizen overstays their Visa.”
The supervisors of Pluna and TAM both backed their agents and said the only way for me to get out of the airport was to have a return ticket to the US in my hand. So, I bought the cheapest ticket I could find to the US from Montevideo (to Miami)… I showed it to them, they confirmed it and allowed me to board my flight to Montevideo. Thank goodness for refundable tickets.
All of this bothers me on a few different levels… Since when do airlines dictate what country you are going to, how long you can stay, and where and how you are going to travel? The last time I checked, that was the job and responsibility of each individual country’s immigration department. To my understanding, if there is a problem with immigration, then the immigrations department is supposed to deal with it, not the airlines…
Please comment… Has anyone else experienced anything like this?
Very interesting side note: When I arrived at LAX and had to clear US customs, it went VERY quick (5 minutes tops). The US Customs officials fast tracked all US citizens to the front of the immigration line. Apparently, US Customs and Border are now taking biometric information (photograph and handprint) of all foreigners entering the US. Retinal scan machines are up there as well. If they aren’t doing retinal scans yet, they will be soon…