I am a US citizen residing in Berlin with my wife and child, who are both German citizens. We have traveled to the US before and have had zero issue with boarding and entry to the US.
This time my daughter and I would be travelling alone for an urgent family matter as my wife was unable to secure the necessary time off from work. We had the signed permission from my wife for us to travel to the US without her, my child’s birth certificate, her approved ESTA, valid German passport, negative PCR test results, and my wife even accompanied us to check-in at the KLM counter.
When we tried to check in for our boarding passes and luggage drop-off, the KLM agent scanned our passports and said that my daughter was not allowed to board a flight to the US without a valid ESTA.
We were a bit confused, as we had no indication that the ESTA was not approved, and even pulled up the website and demonstrated the approved status of her visa waiver. She called some unknown entity, rudely told us that only what it said on her screen mattered, and that there was nothing else to be done and please leave!
Of course this being a 6:30am flight meant that our check-in was at 4:30am which left us with no options for assistance from anybody we could call at that hour. Dejected and frustrated, I immediately emailed the US Embassy Berlin and awaited their response. Once agencies in the US became available, I contacted DHS and CBP as well.
The embassy responded with a series of automated responses, so I called their emergency line as well. They said there was no reason that she couldn’t enter the US as far as they knew but that we needed to speak with Homeland Security.
As there was no direct number to DHS, we eventually managed to speak to a Customs and Border Patrol agent who actually ran all of her docs and info and told us that her being denied boarding was strange since his screen showed that she was cleared for entry into the US. He said Regional Carrier Liaison Group is always available for airlines to speak to directly, and that they should have given a valid reason for why and where this decision to not let her board came from.
Since this incident, the Embassy gave us an emergency appointment to file her CRBA and issued her an emergency US passport to avoid any future mishaps with travel to the US.
All sources seem to indicate that this mistake with boarding happened on KLM’s side, who seem to have been ok with just giving us vouchers for the value of our flight even though re-booking with such short notice incurs loads of extra costs (flight, pcr tests, planned lodging, medical appointment cancellation/rescheduling, and just general mental anguish for our family both here and stateside) which we feel KLM should cover. At the very least we shouldn’t have to pay extra flight costs and PCR tests.
Do we have any right to compensation from the airline for these added costs, considering our situation?