Visa snag ruins Christmas holiday for Ruwais family

A couple and their young daughter, who planned to spend their Christmas holidays in Peru, were unable to transit in Germany due to visa issues.

Aaron Faidley, his wife, Helen Rivera, and their daughter, Sofia, had to turn back around to Abu Dhabi after Ms Rivera was unable to transit through Frankfurt. Delores Johnson / The National
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Christmas was meant to be extra special this year for Helen Rivera. The 32-year-old Peruvian was returning to her native country for the first time in more than two years, accompanied by her Texan husband Aaron Faidley and their 16-month-old daughter, Sofia.

The couple had spent all their savings on the Dh30,000 journey from their home in Abu Dhabi to Arequipa in Southern Peru via Frankfurt and Madrid.

Mr Faidley, 35, teaches English for Adnoc and the family lives in Ruwais in the Western Region.

“After buying the tickets to Lima on, I called the travel agency twice to ask if Helen needed a transit visa and was told she didn’t”, Mr Faidley said. Ms Rivera holds a valid US visa and a Peruvian passport, but her husband wanted to be doubly sure there would be no glitches.

“I contacted Etihad, the carrier taking us to Frankfurt from Abu Dhabi, and they said the same, since we were not going through immigration.”

An official German visa information website also shows that holders of Peruvian passports do not need a transit visa.

However, it also said that a visa for the Schengen region is required if travellers were transiting through more than one airport in the region.

Mr Faidley’s parents, Randy and Gail Parker, were flying to Peru from the US to join the couple for their two-week holiday.

Their ordeal began upon arrival in Frankfurt. To the couple’s dismay, Ms Rivera did require a transit visa after all.

“The immigration officials were kind and tried to help”, Mr Faidley said. “But they also said if we stayed much longer, they would file a report against Helen which meant she would be deported and forbidden from entering any EU country for the next five years.

“We contacted Etihad and One Travel many times, but neither were able to change our flights. At one point, a One Travel representative stated that she had just received approval for a complete refund, minus a US$600 [Dh2,200] cancellation fee. After being put on hold for a few minutes, she returned and stated that actually we couldn’t receive a refund and that there was nothing more she could do.”

An immigration official then said the couple could rebook the flights on a different airline, but that news also turned out to be false hope.

“We then decided that Sofia and I would continue to Peru, and Helen would return to Abu Dhabi,” Mr Faidley said. “Unfortunately, this option also became impossible because the immigration officials had taken our passports, and didn’t return until minutes before the flight was leaving.”

An Etihad representative offered to put up Mr Faidley and the baby in a hotel, but Ms Rivera would have to remain in the airport.

“The next day, we tried everything,” he said. “I contacted One Travel at least six times.”

After 29 hours in Frankfurt, the family was forced to return to Abu Dhabi.

“As we boarded our flight, tears poured down Helen’s eyes. We simply couldn’t believe what had happened. It was just mind-boggling.

“Etihad did fly us back [first class] and treated us like royalty, but we couldn’t care less about that after losing all our money and our holiday.”

Mr Faidley’s parents also had to cancel their trip.

“It was a horrible Christmas”, he said. “We spent most of the day arguing and trying to figure out a way to get back to Peru.”

Just when things could not get much worse, however, they got better. Mr Faidley’s parents booked a last-minute flight to Abu Dhabi and surprised the family.

Mr Faidley and his wife have received no offer of compensation from One Travel, which did not respond to inquiries by The National.

Etihad said: “We are sorry about Mr Faidley’s unfortunate experience while travelling with us … our guest relations team are happy to discuss the matter further with Mr Faidley when he contacts them. While Etihad Airways endeavours to provide its guests with correct and appropriate information regarding passport and visa issues, it remains the passenger’s responsibility to obtain the correct information for the countries to which they intend to travel.”