Politics and national security are not the remit of airlines and airports, but it is their business to facilitate the travel of passengers in accordance with the immigration rules of the countries to which they operate.

The merits and legality of the executive order issued in January by US President Donald Trump barring nationals from seven countries from entering the US are outside the scope of ATW, which covers the business of airlines.

But how that order was implemented—essentially imposing a ban on citizens who boarded flights to the US legally, but who were banned by the time their aircraft arrived in the US—posed a shocking and unnecessary burden on airlines and airports.

Apart from having to try and assist their passengers, including families who were left bewildered and in a no-man’s land, airlines were forced to scramble to understand and comply with new, unclear US immigration requirements. They also were left accountable for implementation costs and faced potential penalties for non-compliance, all stemming from a lack of clarity from the White House.

Meanwhile, the staffs at major US airports were faced with having to hastily make contingency plans for a potential influx of “illegal” detainees. 

None of this was necessary. Worse, the president publicly blamed some of the inevitable chaos that ensued on the airports and airlines.

While the ban was soon suspended by US courts (see page 9), the matter is not resolved. Trump has made clear his intention to issue a new immigration ban. That is his prerogative, but the process should be entirely different from the first rash and ultimately botched attempt.

Any major change in a country’s immigration rules should be implemented only after proper and sufficient advance coordination with airlines and airports so that they can be clearly understood and complied with. Airlines take immigration compliance with each country they serve very seriously, but the onus is on the government to properly and professionally communicate its laws and any changes. 

Immigration laws change, but if protocols for informing airlines of those changes are not followed, the blame and cost for any non-compliance should be directed back to the government.