I showed up at PHL early this morning to check in for my trip to Moscow because I had a future ticketing issue to take care of. It’s a good thing I did: I nearly missed my first flight.
First of all, the check-in lines were crazy this morning and UA was noticeably understaffed. Plus the "Easy Check-in" kiosks seemed to be telling nearly every passenger that they were too late to check in for their flight. Lots of angry customers…
My turn comes and the agent scans my passport, prints out my boarding passes, then begins to thumb through my passport. She find my Russian visa (from 2008) and tells me that it is expired. I explain to her that I will be transiting in Russia and only on the ground for 2.5 hours. She claims I still need a visa. I explain to her that as long as my stay in Moscow is under 10 hours and I do not leave the transit area, no visa is needed.
She scrolls through something on her screen and verifies that I am correct. Then she asks me what city I am transiting to. I tell her I will be returning to Washington on the same plane. With a confused look on her face, she says, "Then you need a visa." Puzzled, I tell her that she just confirmed on her screen that I do not.
She calls over a Service Director who huddles with another Service Director before telling me that I need a visa to travel. I explain to them even their own guidelines say transiting pasengers do not require a visa, but she says since I am returning to the same point, I am not transiting. Seriously.
So the SD gets on the phone with her "help desk" and we wait, and wait, and wait as Chicago looks into it. The early conensus seems to be that I can’t fly, but she is put on hold. About 25 minutes later, I get the green light to go.
I’m not casting blame on UA for the incident this morning. After all, if they send me to Russia "illegally" they incur a huge fine (at least according to the SD). But it would be nice if she was familiar with the definition of transit–"to make a passage or journey from one place to another."
All’s well that ends well. I’m off to Moscow in about an hour.