U.S. ESTA trouble for SAS passengers

It has been more than seven months since the new U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) has been mandatory for airlines that fly citizens of visa-waiver countries to the United States. Yet some carriers’ computer systems are reportedly experiencing serious problems, resulting in denied boarding for travelers with valid ESTAs.

Last week, I received a disturbing e-mail message from an Austrian citizen who had read my previous coverage of ESTA issues. On July 5, she wasn’t allowed on a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flight from Stockholm to Chicago, for which the carrier blamed problems with the passenger’s ESTA…

U.S. should change ‘international airport’ designation policy

I’ve always been puzzled by the grand “international” designation of numerous small airports throughout the United States, just because they boast the odd flight to and from Canada.

While Canada is, indeed, a foreign country, this week’s incident with a Virgin Atlantic plane at Bradley Airport in Hartford, Conn., provides sufficient justification for my bewilderment. The image on the left is the official logo of the airport at issue, with the word “international” displayed very prominently. Yet, when the Virgin flight from London to Newark, N.J., was diverted to Hartford because of bad weather further south, about 300 passengers were forcibly confined to the aircraft for four hours without water or food…

Airline agents make up U.S. entry rules

Ever since electronic permits for foreign travelers to the United States who don’t need a regular visa became mandatory in January, I’ve been getting reports about confusion among both passengers and airport agents about some of the new rules. So I thought I’d try to clear things up.

It’s a particularly good time to do that, because after March 20, the Department of Homeland Security will impose fines on airlines that transport visitors with neither a visa in their passport nor approval by the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The fines will be $3,300 for each non-compliant passenger…

Dulles Airport enters the modern age

Washington Dulles International Airport is certainly taking its time to fully join the modern age of air travel, but the first steps in its journey are now complete, and they make an obvious difference. The most significant are the new international arrivals hall and the AeroTrain, which started running last week.

As readers of this column will recall, I have no love lost for Dulles. In the past, I’ve gone as far as to call it a disgrace for the capital of the world’s richest and most powerful country. Its many limitations include the archaic people-movers officially known as “mobile lounges” and the depressing interior of the “midfield terminal”…

Breezing through U.S. immigration

Going through U.S. immigration has never been easier. I’ve done it three times in less than a month, and not once did I wait in line, see an officer in a booth or have my passport stamped. Instead, I dealt with a rather cooperative kiosk for about a minute.

I’m not in the business of promoting products and services — let alone government initiatives — but the Department of Homeland Security’s new Global Entry program has truly changed my life. There is no reason why it can’t change yours, provided you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. All you need to do is go to the program’s Web site, fill out a relatively detailed online application form and pay a $100 fee…

Dulles showcases airport’s limits

Feeling bitter while traveling and complaining about things you can’t change is never healthy, but I couldn’t help doing just that last week as a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore reminded me how unfortunate we are to have to put up with Washington Dulles International Airport.

Through the years, I’ve tried to accept the reality of the Dulles experience by making it a routine that requires little thinking — from the lack of decent First World transportation to the airport and the archaic people-movers there officially known as “mobile lounges” to the depressing interior of the “midfield terminal” and the immigration hall that is anything but welcoming. I’ve also defended Dulles when I’ve heard people around the world call it one of the worst airports they have seen…