Closed customs in Dublin caused travelers to spend $4,000 to get home

Courtney Dancer told Insider that Courtney Dancer and her two friends were returning home on an Aer Lingus flight when the closed customs office at Dublin Airport delayed their flight.
Courtney Dancer/Nicholas Economou/Norphoto/Getty Images

  • Courtney Dancer and her friends were returning home from Croatia via Ireland on an Aer Lingus flight.
  • After a delay, they landed in Dublin to connect, but customs were closed for the day.
  • Danser said they paid for other flights home after the airline said there were no flights available.

When Courtney Dancer’s Aer Lingus flight home from Croatia was delayed, panic set in immediately.

Dancer was returning home on August 2 with two friends after a week-long trip to Croatia. According to the group’s original itinerary, seen by Insider, the friends were scheduled to fly from Dubrovnik, Croatia, with a layover in Dublin, Ireland, before arriving at Dancer’s final destination, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But Dancer told Insider that their flight from Dubrovnik left 30 minutes late, cutting their layover from 80 minutes to 50 minutes.

In the air, Dancer said she spoke with a flight attendant about the delay and the lack of communication between them. The relief set in when the flight attendant told Danser that other passengers bound for JFK were on the plane and that they would be able to catch their flight home.

“As soon as the flight attendant said to me, ‘You’ll be fine,’ I had no idea what was about to happen,” Dancer said.

Once they arrived in Dublin, Dancer said she was more reassured when she learned that their flight to New York was also delayed. She said the flight is at 4:45pm leaving at 5:20pm.

The group headed to customs. Even though it was only around 4:15 p.m., Dancer said they discovered it was closed for the day. No one will travel to the United States, even though their plane has not left yet.

In the end, the group spent more than $4,000 to get home, and Aer Lingus denied Danser’s request for a refund.

Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport did not respond to requests for comment.

An Aer Lingus plane parked at Dublin Airport.
Artur Fedak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Courtney Dancer said she was stranded in Dublin due to the customs lockdown

Although there was nothing on her ticket or online booking about Dublin airport customs policy, Dancer said she heard from a friend that she would be going through US customs in Dublin, not New York.

For any US-bound flight, Dublin Airport has a pre-clearance facility that passengers must go through, according to the airport’s website. It is one of the few airports that offer pre-clearance before landing in the United States. So, when the passengers finally arrive in the United States, they are treated as domestic rather than international travelers. The airport’s website also encourages pre-cleared passengers to arrive at their terminal three hours before their flight.

Dancer said she initially thought going through customs in Ireland would be in her best interest. Once in the US, she can skip customs and exit the airport right away.

After disembarking from their delayed flight to Croatia, which landed at 3:50 p.m. in Dublin, Dancer said she and her friends immediately headed to the US Customs office.

“When we got there, the doors were closed, the lights were off, and there were two women standing in the front,” Dancer said. “They told us that US customs are closed for the day, so no one else going to the US can board any flights for the rest of the day.”

In a statement sent to Insider, the US Customs and Border Protection representative said, “Current office hours for pre-clearance at Dublin Airport are from 7am to 5pm IST.”

The statement continued, “US Customs and Border Protection will begin securing the pre-clearance area at 4:30 p.m. if it is determined that no additional travelers will arrive.” “An airline may require that operations remain open after posted hours to accommodate delayed transfers. CBP frequently responds to such requests, but has no control over the operations of other stakeholders. The vast majority of passengers who use preclearance do not miss their flights. Airlines bear responsibility for the late arrival of connecting passengers.”

Dancer said that when she got to the customs area just before 4:30 p.m., and found the office closed, she assumed her group could go through customs once they arrived in the United States.

But Dancer said airport staff told her that wasn’t the case. Instead, she was told that US-bound planes leaving Dublin landed at stations that did not go through customs. So, Dancer said, she would not be catching a flight that night, and was told to contact her airline to rebook.

Meanwhile, Dancer said more and more people are arriving at the closed customs area.

“There were hundreds of people who were in the same situation, and it just seemed ridiculous,” she said.

While some of them were passengers on her Croatia flight, Dancer said there were passengers from other flights as well.

Dancer said that when she called Aer Lingus to reschedule her flight, the airline told her the next available flight would be in two days.

“I contacted Aer Lingus customer service, and they told me the next available flight to the US is Friday at 11am,” Dancer said. “This is in two days. We all have to work. I have a dog with a dog sitter. I can’t fly in two days.”

Dancer said she was willing to fly anywhere in the US and then find another flight home, but airline staff told her there were no flights available anywhere in the US for the next two days.

However, Dancer said she doesn’t think that’s true. When she looked at the available flights on the Aer Lingus website, she said she saw many options for the next day.

“There are Aer Lingus flights, but they are first class,” she said. “But the customer service representatives won’t accept that.”

Dancer said she and her two friends had an impromptu night out in Dublin, Ireland.
Courtney Dancer

The group booked their own flights instead

Dancer said she couldn’t wait until Friday to go home, so she booked a Delta flight the next day for $1,725.

She said another friend spent more than $1,000 to get to her home in Denver, Colorado, via Iceland. The third friend booked a $1,200 Aer Lingus flight for the next day, choosing an economy class seat that Aer Lingus representatives said was unavailable. Together, the group spent about $4,000 to get home.

Once home, Dancer said she contacted the airline for a refund.

“They refused to refund me for the Delta flight I booked. They refused to refund me for the entire Aer Lingus flight, and I’m still waiting for a response if they’ll just pay for the flight I missed – but that would only be $200,” she said.

Danser said after receiving Aer Lingus’ refused refund, she still feels hopeful. Her credit card offers travel protection, so I filed a claim with her.

And there, I hit another barrier. Her credit card company is asking her to provide proof that she missed the flight for reasons beyond her control, but she says she cannot find any official documentation indicating she missed her flight because the customs office was closed.

Now that Danser is home, she said she’s on a tight budget until she knows if she’ll get her money back.

“For me, $1,700 is devastating,” she said. “I don’t have $1,700 to drop on a one-way flight – our total trip on Aer Lingus, round trip, was $900.”

The traveler said she was shocked that the customs area would be closed before a scheduled flight

Dancer said she and her two friends made the most of the situation. Each was given a hotel voucher for one night plus an Aer Lingus dinner voucher, and they explored Dublin for a night.

But weeks later, she said, she still wonders why the US customs area is closed before US flights depart.

She added that it was not only the passengers who were affected by the situation.

She said she met airport and hotel staff, bus drivers, and restaurant workers who were all stressed by the influx of stranded passengers.

“You’ve upset a lot of people with this,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

Other travelers say they drove thousands to return home when their travel plans went awry

Dancer and her friends aren’t the only ones paying out of their own pockets to get home when the flights go wrong.

As Insider previously reported, one family was returning home from Nigeria in August when they discovered they didn’t have tickets for a flight they had paid for.

Andrew Spector told Insider that United failed to issue tickets for its partner airline, Lufthansa. When they arrived at the airport, the family of five was told that they would not be able to board the plane.

Eventually, United Airlines was able to rebook the family’s flights, however, Spector said the family spent an additional $4,000 to get home, including the cost of hotels, seat upgrades for flights they didn’t take, and transportation costs.

Lufthansa did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the family’s situation. However, a United representative told Insider that the airline “offered several options and eventually rebooked the family on Turkish Airlines.”

Insider also spoke with a couple traveling from Singapore to New Jersey. Emma Giantiscu and Dylan Marton booked their flights through United and had a connecting flight with Lufthansa.

When their connecting flight was cancelled, the couple tried to rebook flights with both airlines. According to the couple, they were rebooked several times, but each time, tickets and itineraries disappeared from their United apps after hours. After many failed attempts to rebook with airlines for free, they said they spent $4,000 to get back home.

Lufthansa did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the couple’s situation. In a statement sent to Insider, a United representative said, “After receiving a new itinerary for the canceled Lufthansa flight, the customer contacted United to explore his options and we rebooked him on a new flight the following day. When customers did not show up for this flight, they contacted Lufthansa instead.”

Giantiscu said the couple did not show up for the flight because there was no indication on the United app that they had confirmed reservations or tickets.

“I felt like they really didn’t care about us, they didn’t care about us going home. They seemed to care about profits,” Marton previously told Insider.

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