Computer says “NO”

So, we are safely in Ecuador now, and looking back it was not a bad trip, but it was not an uneventful trip and the first event was the Avianca Airline Computer refusing to check me in! For about 20 minutes I was standing at the Avianca Check in desk in Heathrow Terminal Two wondering whether I would be allowed to travel. Ines was fine as she is a dual citizen, she has no issues.

I think I need to begin with a little bit of background. I am on Sabbatical for 3 months, but I am taking the helpful advice that sabbaticals are not holidays, and I am adding some of my annual holiday allowance to my time away. So my time away is greater than 90 days. Ecuador provides for Tourism trips from the UK by giving an automatic 90 tourist visa when you arrive in the country. They then have a system where you can extend your tourist visa for a further 90 days, either online or visiting one of their migration agents in the country. So from my point of view this works fine, and should be sufficient for my purposes of my sabbatical.

Part 1: Avianca Check in

We booked tickets with Avianca which extend beyond the 90 days and they were happy to accept our money. The first indication of trouble was when we tried to check-in online 24 hours before the plane departs. The website refused to check me in and was demanding details of a visa.

When Ines rang Avianca, she was told the system does not understand all the in’s and out’s of each countries visa system and we would have to check-in at the airport. She then rang the Consulate of Ecuador in London, who confirmed that I did not need a visa to enter Ecuador, and I would be able to extend as already discovered. Helpfully, the Consulate sent us an email stating all these things.

When we arrived at the Check-in desk we were asked again for my visa. So I explained, I did not need one, and they said “Computer Says No”. Luckily a very helpful supervisor was on hand to explain, and of course, her explanation made sense. We needed to amend my booking so that my return flight was less than 90 days later. She arranged with the Lady at the Avianca Ticket Desk to make the changes and my return flight was rebooked. But the really surprising thing was she said that once we were checked in she would change our return flight back to the original date, and do all the seat bookings so it looks like nothing has happened.

So the moral of the story is if you are travelling to Ecuador and relying on the 90 day automatic visa then your return flight should be within 90 days, and you probably need to buy a ticket that allows you to make changes at no extra cost / or limited cost.

Part 2: Immigration in Quito, Ecuador

Now I know that the reason for all the fuss with the Airline, is that they are trying to avoid the situation where Immigration in Quito refuses to admit me. I understand that if that happens the Airline has to repatriate me (which would be a disaster).

So, at the Immigration in Quito, normally, Ines and I would approach to official together. Then if there are any questions, she can sort them out with her fluent Spanish. On this occasion, probably because of increased protocols for the COVID pandemic, they were separating couples and families, and so I was sent to booth 13, while Ines was sent to booth 8, which was some distance away. So I present my passport and COVID vaccination certificates and the lady asks in Spanish “how long are you staying in Ecuador?” So I reply honestly “cuatro meses” (four months). She then explains that I can only stay for 90 days. So I explain in my broken pigeon Spanish that I understand that and I intend to extend my visa. She does not seem to accept that, and looks at me puzzled and asks me questions in Spanish that seem more confrontational and I don’t understand. So I plead “espera” (wait) and I get the printed email out from the Consulate in London. She reads it, and suddenly the panic is over, she asks me to look at the camera, and stamps my passport. I am in.

The moral of the story, and maybe the learning, is that you cannot plan to stay more than 90 days on a tourist visa. The fact you can extend and it is supposed to be a simple process online, still means that when you arrive you are only staying for 90 days, until your extension is granted. You are not allowed to assume it will be granted!!

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