It's terror check chaos as dozens miss US flights
By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 8:28 AM on 07th March 2010
Controversial anti-terrorist restrictions imposed on Britons travelling to the US have led to scores of people missing their flights since they were introduced six weeks ago.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) requires all passengers without a visa to complete an online application form before they leave for America.
The form should be completed three days before travelling – but airlines flying to America, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, report that some passengers are still turning up for flights without having filled one in.
A senior BA manager said: ‘Those who “forget” run the risk of not travelling. Staff may be able to help to complete it at the airport, but passengers run the risk of not getting the approval back from the US authorities before the departure.
Controversial anti-terrorist restrictions imposed on Britons travelling to the US have led to scores of people missing their flights
‘If they do not, they will not travel. There have been many cases where this has happened.’ Passengers without the ESTA can attempt to apply at airport internet cafes in the hope that their application will be approved in time to make their flight.
A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic said: ‘We are getting around a dozen of these problems every day. Some people are not aware that completing these forms is a requirement rather than voluntary.’
Most airlines and travel agents alert passengers to the new ESTA requirements when they buy their tickets, but the onus is on the traveller to complete the application on the US Department of Homeland Security’s website.
The process is free but the US will soon begin charging up to $17 (£11.24) per person – adding almost £60 to the cost of a trip to the US for a family of five.
All passengers have to give the authorities their name, address and passport details and reveal if they have had
any sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea and syphilis.
They are also asked for details of any serious mental illness they have suffered and about drug abuse and criminal convictions.
But US citizens flying to Britain do not have to complete similar travel documents, apart from filling in a normal landing card, as every non-EU citizen has to do.
A spokesman for ABTA, the travel agents’ association, said: ‘The onus is on passengers to ensure they get this approval.
‘We would also encourage people travelling to the US over the next couple of years to get their ESTA now before they have to start paying.’