Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, the keyword "document control" has been affecting more and more passengers. At the same time, however, the question arises as to whether the airline has to do this or is allowed to do so at all.
Before the corona pandemic, real passport or ID checks were only carried out in exceptional cases in the Schengen area. Time and again, passengers have mistakenly mistaken their identity document for a passport control when asked by airlines when boarding, but that was never such a thing. The reason for this is simple: real identity checks may only be carried out by the police or by the border control authorities in some countries. If you do not identify yourself to an officer, it is not a real border or passport control.
However, airlines have a very great interest in ensuring that the name on the ID card matches that on the ticket. Actually, it doesn't really matter who is on the plane, but without a name match, you would open all doors and windows to the black market in tickets. At the same time, the airlines could face massive problems with government authorities if, for example, incorrect names or contact details are made available due to a case of an infectious disease on board (e.g. measles, corona, etc.).
For the following paragraph, hide the corona pandemic completely and go back to the time "before Corona". Everything was somehow much more relaxed and the Schengen area could be traveled through without a single real passport or customs control. Anyone on board immediately becomes ill with what is known as a reportable disease. The airline then has to provide the passenger list and the health department begins contact tracing. As a rule, passengers are then asked to contact the authorities or to visit their family doctor.
A prominent example of such an incident was the first flight in the history of Laudamotion. This was carried out on March 20, 2018 on the Vienna-Düsseldorf-Vienna route and on March 28, 2018, all passengers, including Niki Lauda, were contacted by the Medical Directorate of Lower Austria. There was a person on board who was diagnosed positive for measles after the flight. The agency requested that health be monitored and that the health department at home be contacted.
In summary, it can be said that real border or passport controls are only carried out by officials from state bodies such as the police or border guards. The mere comparison of the name in the passport and on the booking confirmation or on the boarding pass serves primarily to prevent the black market in flight tickets, but also to ensure that the passenger lists are correct.
States can explicitly instruct checks
So-called "document controls" have existed for many decades, but these were actually only known to travelers who had flown to destinations requiring a visa. Examples of this are Russia and China. But why? Because these two states have explicitly imposed on airlines that fly passengers to their countries that only travelers who meet the requirements for entry may be carried. One can rather hide one's own citizens, because they do not need a visa to travel to their home country. Most foreigners do, however.
What happens if - for example - you are in Moscow at the Vnukovo airport at the border control and cannot show a visa? Entry is refused and the airline has to "pick up" the person immediately and take them out of the country. The airline bears the costs for this initially, but it is very likely that it will take recourse against the passenger. In some states, the airline even collects a fine.
Almost all countries that have strict entry regulations even without Corona - for example, a visa must be applied for in advance at the embassy - explicitly stipulate that the airlines are only allowed to transport people who meet the requirements for entry. As a rule, the current state of affairs is communicated via Notam.
Passengers must meet the entry requirements
Caution! Especially in the corona pandemic, some people believe that the airline is in some way responsible for not being able to enter a country or for getting the money back if you can't and therefore want to cancel. This is a big mistake, because the entry regulations have absolutely nothing to do with the contract of carriage. It is the passenger's duty to meet the entry requirements. As a reminder: without a visa there is no entry for foreigners in states that require a visa. The same applies to the "Corona entry regulations", even if it is still unfamiliar, strange or annoying for many. Perhaps some complainers are now realizing what a great achievement free travel in the Schengen area was.
Do airlines have to do document checks or not? If the destination country explicitly stipulates this and imposes it on the airlines by means of Notam, this must be carried out. But that only means that you have to check whether everything is there and looks real. Some countries, including Greece and France, are humming fines on airlines if passengers enter with incomplete or completely without "Corona papers".
So you can answer this question simply: If the government of the respective country demands it, then the airlines have to do it. Austria has not ordered any “document controls” by airlines. The transport companies only have to draw attention to the entry regulations. Unfortunately, this does not prevent Austrian Airlines, for example, from playing “deputy sheriff” anyway.
Document controls often appear in the fine print
This inevitably brings up the next question: Are airlines allowed to do that at all? This question is very difficult to answer because it depends on the national law of the place of departure, because in some states there is a legal basis for it. Otherwise, a look at the General Conditions of Carriage can provide information, because almost all providers have a paragraph that deals with travel documents. If this stipulates that the airline can have this shown, then it may do so even if there is no official order for this. Why? Because with the purchase of the ticket, the conditions of carriage were accepted and thus contractually agreed between the passenger and the airline.
In summary, it can be said: If there is a state order for the "document check", then the airline is acting in compliance with legal regulations. If this is missing, the "document control" is only permitted if it is stipulated in the General Conditions of Carriage - the phrase "at the request of the airline" is sufficient - and has thus been contractually agreed between the passenger and the carrier. If both prerequisites are not met, the "document control" is not permitted and if the airline then refuses transport, it is even liable for damages.
Staff often confused because of many changes
Since the entry regulations are completely different from state to state and both airlines and airports sometimes no longer comply with the constant post-schooling because some things have changed again overnight, a curious annoyance can also arise: The ground staff insists that the Documents are inadmissible or any form is missing. If the passenger is really in the right and the employee remains stubborn, one should ask the superior and show him the currently valid regulations. If the transport is refused because of a mistake by the ground staff, the airline is liable for damages. Caution! If, however, the passenger had completely wrongly informed himself and the ground staff acted completely correctly, the passenger can go swimming in good German.
It is recommended that if you meet the requirements for entry and can prove that you remain friendly and relaxed. A little forbearance with the ground staff is really necessary, because they have to have the regulations of many countries in their head on a daily basis and that it is simply human to mix things up. At the latest, the supervisor should then be able to solve the problem. But if you think you have to give a “roaring concert” or possibly even riot, then the probability is very high that the trip will first lead to the police station.
Finally, there is a clear recommendation that you should inform yourself regularly about the entry rules, because these can change frequently. If you are unsure, you can also call the respective embassy and ask them. The diplomatic mission can provide competent information or at least provide the contact details for the responsible authority. Such a simple information does not cost, but can be very useful in case of doubt.