Traveling on a one way airline ticket outside the USA

by | Last updated May 31, 2017 | Published on Aug 23, 2016 | How To Travel Smarter | 3 comments

First let us just apologize to the motorists traveling on I-80/90 between Cleveland and Detroit on August 17, 2016.

Earlier this year we started looking for one way airline tickets to India, the start destination we selected for our travels. Since we are on an open-ended trip and don’t know when or from where we’ll be heading back to the US, it made sense to only book one way.  We had built up some air miles with American and Delta and in order to make our travel as cheap as possible, wanted to use those miles to book some award tickets.

As we started looking months before our trip there was plenty of award availability.  We booked one-way tickets to Mumbai, India for August 17th using 80,000 Delta miles and about $75. Our tickets were issued, seats assigned, no problems. Yay we’re heading to India!

We routinely checked our tickets every month or so leading up to the trip and every week or so in the last month. With the exception of a small flight time change here and there, we had nothing that would indicate any possible issues with traveling.

Fast forward to the day before our trip. We logged into Delta, checked into our flights and printed our boarding passes. Again, nothing to indicate there would be any sort of problem.

The next day Dano dropped us off at the Cleveland airport with our packs, ready to start our year long journey. Since we had our boarding passes printed and were carrying on our bags, we headed straight through security (using the TSA precheck line) and over to our gate.

11:30am: We were about 2 hours early for our 1:30pm flight so we decided to go to the United Club and relax until boarding time. Yes we were traveling on Delta, but we had free United Club access through a credit card so we ventured over that way.

12:50pm: About 10 minutes before boarding we arrived at our gate and grabbed a couple of chairs to wait when we heard “Bradley, party of 2, check in at the counter please.”  Arriving at the counter we figured this was just a routine passport/visa check since we were traveling international and sure enough the gate agent asked to see our passports.

1pm: After scanning our information through the system he asked when we would be returning to the USA. We told him that we did not have return tickets as we were traveling indefinitely, but that we planned to be in India until September when we would head to Nepal. He then asked if we had onward tickets from India to Nepal, which of course we did not yet. He then told us that without a return ticket to the USA that we would not be able to fly to India and refused to let us on the plane.  We of course know this not to be true. If anything, only proof of onward travel could be required by India. We asked to talk to a supervisor which he called and came back with the same information.

1:15pm: We then asked if we could just fly to our next stop (Detroit) as we had a 5 hour layover there and we would get it sorted out. No you may not! Several tense minutes went by while everyone else boarded the plane and it left without us. What a start.

1:40pm: After the plane left the agent tried again to help us by suggesting that we purchase a fully refundable return ticket to the USA and then just cancel it when we get to India, but that we’d have to rebook tickets on another flight now that we’d been barred from the current one.

If you didn’t already know, fully refundable international tickets cost A LOT of money and we weren’t really willing to float that amount. Plus, we still didn’t believe that you actually need a return ticket to the USA to fly.

2pm: We weighed our options and headed out of the secure area back to the Delta counter. After waiting in the line the counter agent said we weld have to call the sky miles helpline to get assistance.  Ugh.

2:20pm: Now outside of the secure zone, we found a relatively quiet spot to sit down and call Delta. “All agents busy, we’ll call you back in 20-35 minutes.” Meanwhile we went ahead and booked an onward flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, Nepal for later in September just in case.

2:50pm: When Skymiles called us back 30 minutes later the news was grim. We explained our predicament and the woman didn’t seem to know what we were talking about with the “return to USA” ticket. Big surprise. We told her that we booked an onward ticket to Nepal and she started to look for award flights for us however last minute award availability is next to impossible. After around 25 minutes of searching, the next award availability was 2 weeks away. 2 weeks!

3:15pm: Then in a stroke of genius, she said “hey you were supposed to fly through Detroit, its only 130 some miles from Cleveland, if you rent a car and leave now, you can probably make your original flights. I will reissue them out of Detroit.” 3 hours 35 minutes till take off, challenge accepted!

3:30pm: The agent transferred us over to a car rental which we booked while walking running to the desk and within 15 minutes we were in a car hauling down the I-80/90 freeway to Detroit.

5:30pm: We made it airport to airport in a little under 2 hours. Boom! We dropped the car, lucked out on grabbing the next terminal shuttle and anxiously waited as it drove us to the terminal. Once we arrived we raced inside to the ticket counter, panting as we scanned our passports into the kiosk. The agents rushed to help us after they saw our clear exasperation and the hurry we were in realizing the flight we were supposed to be on. They asked when we were coming back to the US and we said we had confirmed tickets for onward travel to Nepal. They then printed our boarding passes with “docs ok” printed on them and off we went. Not once did they even ask to see the onward travel confirmation or even care if we had a return ticket to the USA. 

5:45pm: We ran through security (yay Precheck!) and off to our gate. Flight delayed 30 minutes. Well great. So happy we raced to Detroit.

Moral of this story. Have an onward travel plan and be able to show it if need be when booking a one-way international ticket. You may be denied boarding otherwise! In fact, after this little snafu, we did some more research about this and found from other travel blogs that each time we head to another country (at least by flight) we may need to show onward travel. While sometimes it’s simple enough to tell them you have onward tickets somewhere, in some cases they will ask to see the tickets, so best to have some sort of plane/train/bus/other ticket booked in advance. Live and learn!

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