US only kidding about 'clear to fly' January deadline?
ESTA mandatory but also optional from 12th, allegedly...
Do you feel lucky? Registration with ESTA, the US 'clear to fly' system for visa waiver programme travellers to the US, is currently optional, but as of 12th January becomes mandatory. Or possibly, not - sort of mandatory but not compulsory instead.
So how does that work? ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), is being introduced by the Department of Homeland Security as, allegedly, a tougher and more secure way to screen air passengers than the current Visa Waiver Programme. It is billed by the DHS as a development of Visa Waiver, but has caused ructions with the EU, and could also be viewed as, effectively, the abolition of Visa Waiver. Some EU states have broken ranks and agreed to ESTA in order to achieve visa-free travel to the US, but with the 12th January deadline coming up, the airlines have to toe the line whether or not Brussels agrees.
But at least one airline, British Airways, is suggesting through its online check-in system that ESTA is already mandatory. "A US Travel Authorisation is required for all non US passport holders travelling on the Visa Waiver Programme", it inaccurately informs its customers. Clicking on the "Supply Information" link then whacks you straight through to the ESTA application site, which you'll note shares BA's premature enthusiasm by claiming: "All eligible travelers who wish to travel under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization..."
BA passengers are however likely to be confused by the apparently mandatory but currently optional system, as the BA "Supply Information" link is also used to prompt passengers to fill in the - actually mandatory - PNR (Passenger Name Record) data prior to their flight. This data is passed by the carrier to the US authorities, but as it's submitted to BA's system, once you've filled it in the Supply Information link vanishes.
This doesn't happen with ESTA, because the data isn't submitted to the BA system, hence BA doesn't know whether or not you've submitted it. And hence - one presumes - quite a few passengers will be phoning up BA customer services asking if there's some problem with their travel authorisation.
A customer support representative The Register spoke to this week claimed to be puzzled that the ESTA link was on the site, given that ESTA isn't mandatory until the 12th January. But there would be no problem checking in and flying to the US, he said.
A BA press office spokesman agreed that ESTA wasn't mandatory prior to 12th January, but defended BA's early deployment of the system by pointing out that the "ESTA site" explains this, and that the system is optional prior to that date. But although this is certainly explained in the DHS' ESTA FAQs, there's no mention of it in the form BA links to, which actually implies that ESTA is already mandatory.
But even after ESTA is mandatory, the spokesman continued, there will be "leeway". Meaning? The DHS is "mindful that a cut-off date would be catastrophic for air travel", so people won't be stopped from flying to the United States, and won't be turned back when they get there. Probably? For how long after the 12th?
The spokesman said we'd have to talk to the DHS about that, but said that this mandatory/optional state of affairs could continue for "possibly months."
So, do you feel lucky? That would seem inadvisable, given that flouting a mandatory system on the basis that you've been told it's actually optional seems to us a pretty good way to get yourself added to a no-fly list. But there's a possible explanation to ESTA's initial halfway house status in the lack of a return channel from the ESTA system to the airline systems.
ESTA, remember, is intended to operate as a clear to fly system, stopping unwelcome passengers boarding the aircraft in the first place, and in order for it to operate as such there have to be direct links between the ESTA system and the airlines' systems. So whereas now you fill in the form and get an ESTA application number that the airline doesn't care tuppence about, in the future you'd probably add that number to your check-in data, and the airline would cross reference that with ESTA in order to establish that you were cleared to fly.
Presuming ESTA isn't currently ready to do that, and presuming it won't be on the 12th of January either, then the system that will continue to operate until it is will be the combination of PNR data and the green I-94W Visa Waiver form you fill in on the flight.
The ESTA form effectively duplicates much of the I-94W, including the questions about moral turpitude and Nazi Germany, and it is envisaged by the DHS that the ESTA data will replace the I-94W paper data "when [a passenger is] arriving on a carrier that is capable of receiving and validating messages pertaining to the traveler’s ESTA status as part of the traveler's boarding status. Travelers on carriers without this capability will still be required to complete the paper Form I-94W."
So in all probability the length of the "leeway" will be the time it takes the DHS to get the major airlines online. An ESTA number, incidentally, is good for multiple entries over two years, so no more I-94W tedium once it's properly live. But no doubt you'll still have to deal with the customs form. ®
In response 2.0
Re the Irish Famines. My father is an agronomist, my mother a historian ... they both have more of a clue than the wikifiddlers because both of them actually have either experience in the field or know how to do research that is not somewhere to the left of guesswork. As it stands at the moment I am an author, geologist, designer and mechanic and god knows how many other things... I love nothing more than learning about and understanding things. There simply wasnt the structures needed available to deal with that sort of crisis. Its arguable that it wasnt until the blockade of Berlin post war (1946 I think from memory) that this sort of intervention was even possible
So please dont patronise me. I know about lend lease.. I know how it worked, and also that for the most part the stuff we got lumbered with was second rate or so old it was worn out. Grant tanks that managed about 300 yards before they detonated their transmissions.... or destroyers so ancient that even commanders in WWI put them in mothballs ... thats what we got, at least at first.
I personally HATE the british empire and all it stood for. I have good reason to. I have to fight every day of my life just to survive because of the thoughts and theories of the people who ran it... that have propagated down to now.
But you want to know the difference between the British Empire and the Wannabe American one? its quite important really. The British truely thought they were improving peoples lot in life - shoving god-botherage down their throats and killing off native traditions. BushCo just wants two things: money (and by extension, oil) and to give Islamic countries a good kicking. For heavens sake europe havent had a crusade since the northern crusades around 1250 or so... it would be nice if the US could drag themselves out of the ancient past..
And George - I know all about Afghanistan and the fighting 44th - and the soviet invasion, you know, the one where the US funded the Mujahaddeen (sp?) who turned into the very people who caused 9/11... The only person who actually managed to sucessfully invade either of these two countries is a lad called Alexander who did it by the expedient method of 'just keep going'.
*sigh* The majority of the inter-tribal wars were going on long before the Empire turned up. They are still going on now and they still will do into the future. Why? because if you put people on marginal lands they are going to fight, end of story. It is probably true that the British 'helped things along' a little and used these conflicts for their advantage, but they certainly didnt start them off. Regards the history of India - look up the Hijra... and then think on... from being a revered religious caste to what they are now... dont you just love western 'civilisation'?
Alot of the time I think it would be better if the entire world was one huge country with the same laws and one judicial control - where everything was done sensibly - but it will never happen because even if it was paradise - someone wouldnt like it.
I am several different races rolled into one - at least Irish, english, danish/swedish and probably a soupcon of prussic german to taste. I am also British English by nationality. However I cant say I am proud of being British, far from it. Most of our history is a national embarrassment... but it happened and there is nothing I can do to change it. The problem now is dealing with the fallout and trying to stop the same thing happening again.
Its also to stop bitching and fighting with other people simply because they believe in a different version of the same God... for heavens sake thats like shooting the network admin down the road because he likes Windows NT and you want to use Vista.
I have a copy of the Koran that was given to me by a Moslem, and which was his personal copy. He gave me rules to abide by regarding its treatment.. and I keep them religiously, not because I am Moslem, but in respect for the fact he gifted it me.
Before I go I will just say one more thing. You will be familiar with the word 'Jihad'. What you likely wont be familiar with is its actual meaning or translation. It means 'holy works' not holy war - but it has been hijacked and repurposed to mean just that in the modern world.... and a word to the wise, it was first used in that sense when the knights of Western Christendom invaded... talk about history repeating itself.
>As for the IRA. I did not fund them. I did not cause the hatred either.
Nope, but your countrymen did, and you don't condem it, you're just as complicit.
>Funny how the cause was the same: "This was because they had been deprived of access to most of the land they had worked in previous centuries and were expected to subsist on very small areas of land."
Nope, in both cases the cause was potato blight, no biological diversity means devastation, people were repressed and bled dry by their landlords, but the famine was caused by the blight, after all the landlords would have prefered their tennants to stay alive and pay their dues, surely?
>My point - which you ignored!
Your point is moot, if you think that colonisation by portugese, french and english 400/300/200/100 years ago somehow justifies the US causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the birthplace of civilization, in modern times, then you need a checkup from the neckup.
We can argue if Handing Hong Kong back to the Chinese is a good or bad thing, we can argue if handing back land to native Africans has been benificial to their country or not, we can argue that the Falklands should be handed (back?) to Argentina, giving back the Elgin marbles etc. but times have changed in the last 400 years, these are modern times, maybe the portugese, french and english did what was appropriate at the time, maybe not, and if not, it as sure as hell isn't appropriate now.
Yes Nick you're 100% correct, Google may taking over the world (books, people pissing in the street, telling me where i live, thought control etc etc), but the US government still only wants to work with the boys at Redmond. Chrome tells me the ESTA site is unavailable.
Oh and having a wife as a US citizen just made the site explode.... oh well!
Bill - thanks to his products, our holiday can go ahead