Ryanair ‘sorry’ for refusing refugee leave to board flight

At Dublin check-in desk,Venezuelan told visa needed to enter Spain

Carlos Velasquez: ‘I felt so ashamed in front of the other passengers. Ryanair treated me like I was doing something wrong.’ Photograph:  Tom Honan

Carlos Velasquez: ‘I felt so ashamed in front of the other passengers. Ryanair treated me like I was doing something wrong.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

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Ryanair has apologised after refusing to allow a Venezuelan man board a flight in Dublin for Madrid, mistakenly claiming he needed a visa to enter Spain.

Carlos Velasquez, who has lived in Ireland for seven years and holds an Irish refugee travel document, was scheduled to fly on September 25th to visit his mother who had recently become unwell.

However, upon arrival at the Ryanair check-in desk, he says he was told he could not fly to Spain without a visa. When he responded that he had flown numerous times in Europe before without a visa, the staff member said she would call airport immigration for clarification.

“When she came back she said she’d spoken with immigration and they said I needed the visa,” Mr Velasquez told The Irish Times. “I felt so ashamed in front of the other passengers. Ryanair treated me like I was doing something wrong, like I was a second-class citizen.

“She kept saying contact your embassy but I told her Ireland is my home, my document is Irish. It was like speaking to a wall.”

Under the 1960 European agreement on the abolition of visas for refugees, signed by Ireland in 1969, refugees travelling on a Geneva convention document do not require a visa to move within Europe when visiting a country for three months or less.

When he asked about a refund for the flight, Mr Velasquez says Ryanair refused because it had been “my obligation” to check visa requirements.

He eventually went back to his house in Dublin and contacted the Spanish embassy about his plans to travel to Spain. He returned to the airport the following morning equipped with a print out from the embassy showing he did not require a visa to travel.

The Ryanair staff again did not allow Mr Velasquez to check in so he went to Terminal 2 where an Aer Lingus flight was leaving for Madrid. After checking Mr Velasquez’s travel document and proof of vaccination, Aer Lingus allowed him to purchase a ticket and board his flight. In Madrid, he passed through immigration controls with no issues.

When Mr Velasquez returned to Madrid airport four days later, he says the Spanish Ryanair staff were helpful and could not understand why he was blocked from checking in at Dublin. He returned home on September 30th with no problems.

‘A real fear’

Shaken by the experience, Mr Velasquez immediately contacted Ryanair to make a formal complaint.

“The experience gave me a real fear that if something happened to my mum and I need to see her quickly, I might not be able to travel. I also don’t want this to happen to other refugees in Ireland. I had my boyfriend to help me but a lot of people might not speak English or have support. We should all be treated with respect. I was left in shock after that experience, I felt so embarrassed.”

Following a query from The Irish Times, Ryanair responded to Mr Velasquez, 10 days after he submitted his complaint.

A Ryanair official apologised for the “inconvenience” caused and acknowledged he had been “incorrectly denied boarding to your flight”.

“We have started an internal investigation regarding this incident and your complaint has been forwarded to the relevant departmental manager for them to review and take all the possible measures to ensure this situation does not occur again.”

Ryanair refunded the cost of Mr Velasquez’s original flight and also offered to refund the difference of the cost of the new Aer Lingus flight he purchased.

As he was “incorrectly denied boarding”, the airline also offered €250 in compensation which it said was due under EU Regulation 261/2004. Mr Velasquez has not yet decided whether he will accept the compensation or take the matter further.

He has since spoken to a number of refugees who he claims encountered similar problems with Ryanair.

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