Airline passengers advised to apply for ESTA


Airline passengers flying to the USA are being advised that from January 12th they will need to apply at least 72 hours before their departure time for permission to enter the country under the new ESTA scheme.

ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is being introduced by the US government for all passengers on flights to the USA under the visa waiver scheme. ESTA has been voluntary since August 1st this year, but becomes mandatory on January 12th 2009.

Fortunately applying via the ESTA website is easy, or passengers can also provide the information needed via their travel agent. Information required includes name, date of birth and passport details. Travel information such as flight number and address in the United States is optional.

The ESTA scheme enables the Department of Homeland Security in the USA to decide whether passengers are eligible to enter the country. Anyone making a late booking on flights to the USA can still apply but there is a risk that they may not receive immediate confirmation and could be refused travel.

Airlines including British Airways are encouraging their customers to apply through the ESTA scheme in plenty of time. “The US is our biggest overseas market and we have been working hard to advise our visa waiver customers that they must apply to the Department of Homeland Security well in advance of travel,” says BA government and industry affairs manager, Jim Forster.

“We will be sending reminder messages to customers who have given us their email details to invite them to apply for ESTA,” Forster adds.

Approved ESTA applications are valid for two years and allow multiple visits to the US within that period without any need to re-apply except in certain circumstances, for example a new passport or change of name.

Passengers flying to the USA will still need to fill in the green I-94W form available at check-in or onboard and present it to US Customs and Border Protection on arrival in the United States until further notice.