Some Really Basic Stuff
You all know this, of course, but it is just as well to make sure that some basic travel requirements are noted. In order to complete this excercise, I need you to get out your passport. Yes, your passport.... that thing you throw in your suitcase, shoulder bag or pocket without so much as a second glance.
What we need to do, is read the details page. Firstly note your name. This is the name that must appear on each and every flight booking. I am not being flippant, it can be natural to say I am "Ted Jacks" - given many people have unusual names, an agent may well enter Ted Jacks - and you would be surprised how many people respond positively, when I (or other agents say: "Is that the name that appears in your passport?"). If your passport first name is "Ted", fair enough... but if your passport says "Edward" - no it isn't. Make sure you use your passport name on a frequent flyer mileage schemes as well, otherwise we just get a response that says "Name does not match". (which gives us a clue that you have different names) We agents always wish to say (and sometime do!) : "Which bit of "Names as appear on your passport" is not clear?"
Next, check your passport expiry date. You need to have six months validity for some countries and for others, you need a totally blank page for a visa. (e.g. South Africa) The least you may get away with is 3 months; but if you only have 6 months left and your passport is very full - get a new one.
If all is in order we can move on. It is the responsibility of the traveler to make sure they have all the required documentation for their journey. If you book online with an airline there is little mention of this as they are too busy trying to get you to add on a seat purchase. Online Travel Agents are just as bad. True, they do say something about having a visa but it is invariably under a drop down menu - and, of course, everyone always reads the "terms and conditions". To my mind, if you book a flight to, say China, then there should be a big flashing red warning sign: "YOU NEED A VISA"
Airlines can and do deny boarding if you do not have the correct travel documents, given whatever your nationality is; mainly because if you turn up in some foreign clime without a (required) visa, the airline has the job of flying you back again (at best) and at worst, they get a big fine. You too, may find yourself taken into custody.
Getting a visa varies in difficulty. The easiest, perhaps, are the likes of the USA, Australia and Canada where you can make an online application that often has a fast response. Others require you to visit the Embassy though wherever possible I suggest using a dedicated visa company (for example Ross Consular) - they know what is required, are able to get documents dealt with and you wont have to spend time in a major city trying to find parking, not to mention the queues.
I suggest that you apply for your visa as soon as you know when you need to visit a particular country. Even for the USA, Oz and Canada - because if for any reason you are "knocked back" then you will need to go through the rather longer and much more involved application process (which may take weeks, rather than days). Leaving visas to the last minute is never a good idea, even if you want to bag a flight for some very low fare.
"Required documents" does not only refer to passports and visas. You may need to have and be able to show a return ticket. You may have to show travel insurance or even that you have enough money for your stay. Return tickets (where they are a requirement) are best taken as some form of hard copy. The hard copy should show the itinerary and most important - the ticket number.
The thing to remember, here, is that there is only one person who carries the responsibility for making sure that all you travel documents are in order - that is, you. We (traditional) agents are responsible for making sure that you are aware that you will need certain travel documents; but if we do not get all the accurate information about you, we cannot do our best to make sure that your trip is a s trouble-free as we can make it.