Hard to say where obligation ends to inform client of visa rules

By Mark Pestronk
Mark PestronkQ: I have always understood that my agency could be liable for failing to advise a client about the need for a visa to visit a foreign country. For example, I understand that we have a duty to advise clients who are U.S. citizens that they need visas for Brazil or China. What about much more complicated situations? Suppose our client in the U.S. is a citizen of foreign Country A and is flying to Country B with a connection in Country C. We did not advise the traveler that Country C requires Country A's citizens to have a visa, so Country C forced the traveler to return to the U.S. If the traveler missed an important business convention, are we liable for failing to advise the client of the need for the visa?

A:
Although there is at least one precedent that stands for the proposition that travel agents must always advise about the need for visas, I doubt that it is reasonable to extend the legal duty to the extreme extent presented by your situation.

In 1989's Levin v. Kasmir World Travel, the City Court of New York held that "Kasmir had a duty to notify the traveler about the need for a visa before entering France. This view is in accord with the expanding role of the travel agent to provide all relevant and necessary information to the consumer who reasonably relies on the agent's expertise.

"Here, it was, I hold, reasonable to expect Kasmir to alert its passenger to important changes in the visa requirements of foreign nations. It was also reasonable for Mrs. Levin to rely on Kasmir to supply this information. After all, the travel agency was clearly in a position to assemble and disseminate this basic and significant type of travel information. Having not done so, Kasmir breached its legal duty to the claimant."

Of course, Levin was an American who was simply traveling nonstop to France. That country had only recently imposed the new visa requirement after many years of not requiring a visa, and the new rule was widely reported in the trade press.

What if Levin had been, say, an Israeli citizen flying from New York to Rome with a change of planes in Frankfurt? Would a U.S. travel agency have a legal duty to advise her about the need for German visa?

What if Levin had been a U.S. citizen traveling to France today, when we no longer need a visa to visit as a tourist, and was planning to stay there a year and even work part-time?

I am not sure exactly where to place the dividing line, but there must be one, and I hope to develop a viable working theory in the weeks or months ahead.

Corrections

In my Nov. 19 column, "Other GDSs likely to take cues from AA-Sabre settlement," I misattributed two quotes:
"The biggest sweetheart content deal around" was not a direct quote by Sabre's attorney but rather The Beat reporter's paraphrase. The quote "Watch the GDSs cave and the agency deals roll in" is from an American Airlines email as recounted by a lawyer. Finally, the $2.73 amount was not shared by Sabre's attorney but rather was in American's court complaint. 

Mark Pestronk is a Washington-based lawyer specializing in travel law. To submit a question for Legal Briefs, email him at mark@pestronk.com. 
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