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Last minute ESTA status change

London, United...
posts: 48
reviews: 3
Last minute ESTA status change

Hi everyone,

My family and I were due to leave London Heathrow to visit LA. Our flight was on 25/08/13. We submitted our ESTA applications over a month ago, these were all approved within 30 minutes!However, when we tried to check-in at the airport (after being unable to online) we were told that mine and my eldest son had a sudden ESTA status change and that now it had been denied! With my wife, daughter and youngest son still being in approval, and able to travel.

We were given absolutely no reason for this and the check-in clerk tried to help by contacting the immigration officer, but the officer told him that we were unable to travel now at all unless we got a VISA. Also he refused to speak to me, or justify the sudden authorization change in the ESTA. On top of that, soon after my wife a daugther's ESTAs were also changed to also being denied.

Obviously because of this, we missed our flight (we would have landed about now) as we were not allowed to travel, and our holiday is ruined. Losing out on nearly £7000 since it is non-refundable, and we can't change dates on hotels. United offered to change our flight to Wednesday 28th, so we still get part of our holiday, but it is unlikely we will get a VISA sorted by then, as this takes 5 days to process, and they are closed over bank holiday weekend, only opening on Tuesday 26th (even here, we do not have a appointment, so still do not guarantee being seen).I have submitted the DHS forms online for appealing ESTA decisions, but again I doubt this will be sorted by Wednesday, our last chance of a holiday. I have also asked the question on the ESTA website, however last time I did this a few years back they replied a year later! Still not answering my question!I just wanted to ask if anyone else has been in a similar situation? I couldn't find anything online about ESTA statuses changing, just that a CBP officer can deny us entry after approval. This naturally seemed unlikely to us, as we have no reason to be denied, and was even more of a shock, as my daughter, eldest son and I have previously visited the USA.Also does anyone know how long the DHS take to reply? Or if anything on the VISA with the embassy can be sorted ASAP?!My family and I are absolutely gutted, and see no reason as to why we would be denied entry. Or why they waited till the last minute to change their minds! I can only see this as a form of discrimination, as no reason was provided.I hope anyone can share any similar experiences, or suggestions to help.

Thanks!

Elk Rapids, Michigan
Destination Expert
for Lanai
posts: 8,721
reviews: 35
41. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

"Welcome to the insanity that is Homeland Security, US CBP and the myriad of other "security" agencies that have buried the US under an avalanche of mindless knee-jerk bureaucracy."

Tough job you know. They need to be on top of things 100% of the time. Anyone wishing to do harm only needs to get lucky once.

My right to not get blown up far exceeds anyone elses right to fly. Sorry the OP got all caught up in this and I am sure it will get sorted out but far better safe than sorry.

London, United...
posts: 48
reviews: 3
42. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

Update Time !!

Visited the US Embassy in London this morning. Big que but very orderly. Met a young lad working on security who was very polite and helpful. The normal procedure for visiting the embassy is to arrange an appointment and be seen that way. However, I explained my situation to the young lad who alongside a young lady, asked their supervisior to speak with me, who in turn contacted a gentlemen from the embassy, who came almost immeadiately. Very pleasant chap, who listened and stated he was aware of our situation due to updates he gets as part of his job. Went away to make some enquiries, and approximately 30 mins later, via the senior supervisor, advised me my situation was instructed from Washington as a "deny travel", however the final say was left to United Airlines, who if they did fly me and my family, could be liable to a $3000 fine if we didnt get an entry stamp at LA airport ! The annoying thing is, his counterparts in the US were unable to tell him why me and my family were given approval and then stripped of this approval on the day of our travel !. So the conclusion was I would need to apply for a formal visa ($160 per person), however, I was told that it would mean arranging an appointment, which even on an urgent basis could take 2 to 3 days to get, followed by a 5 day wait for the visa. 8 days in total !...by which time my holiday would be over.

I tried to contact United Airlines to seek a refund. Call centre says yes to this or even a change in date to Easter next year ( so I can replan the holiday etc), but when my travel agent calls them I am told no refund, no date change !

So in short:

No trip

No refund on flights

Holding my breath on hotel refund ( but this too unlikely)

Very upset family espcially the 12 year old who would have spent his birthday at Universal Studios in a couple of days !

Wasted time and more expense

No explanation as to why an ESTA issued and then revoked 8 hours before my flight was due to depart. Could me many reasons, I have my own conclusions on the matter.

Still in the dark, but such is life. WE will apply for a visa in due course, but after we have had a holiday. Just booked to have 7 days in Phuket with the family. No point wasting any more time. JUst want to get away and relax.

Thanks to all who have posted words of encouragement and offered advice. Thank you.

Those who are due to travel, dont take the ESTA approval as read. I would suggest you re-check and if you encounter any issues whilst trying to upload your advance passenger info on line or cannot check in online...hit the panic button. These were the tell tale signs I encountered. It makes sense now why my passport details and other contact info etc would not save on the system, and why I couldnt check in on line.

Good luck and save and enjoyable travels to all.

London, United...
posts: 48
reviews: 3
43. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

Hopefully, we will get to visit the west coast in 2014 ( if we can get some refunds on flights and hotels)...or maybe later then that !

Romford, United...
posts: 2,065
reviews: 23
44. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

I know you have suspicions as to the reason why your ESTA's were revoked but would you mind giving some form of indication as to the reason it has occurred? without incriminating or casting aspersions at anyone in order that the brightest and finest minds on T/A can advise further

Edited: 6:23 pm, August 27, 2013
Mount Dora, Florida
Destination Expert
for Istanbul
posts: 12,917
reviews: 208
45. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

I am glad that you were able to salvage something and that you will at least enjoy a holiday break. I cannot imagine why your ESTA would have been granted and then denied. You have written a couple of times that you have suspicions of why you were denied. Are those suspicions based on your unusual last name or is there something else you have not shared?

Immediately after 9/11 the Moslem members of my family with Middle-Eastern names had a couple of flights where they experienced extra security checks, but only in the first six months. After that there was no difficulty flying. In 2005 my infant grandson was placed on the no-fly list and remained there for 2-3 years causing us all to need to arrive at the airport several hours early while TSA inspected the baby to insure he was not a terrorist.

Having experienced first-hand the TSA nonsense, I have nothing but sympathy for your situation. My best guess is that is not exclusively your last name. However, I would not be surprised if your last name was not similar to the last name of someone who is on a list of people who are denied entry. There is some reason why you have been associated with someone whom TSA deems to be a threat to the US.

If you had a traffic ticket that was not paid, and it has gone unpaid for ten years it could be a significant amount of money with fees and penalties. My son-in-law neglected to pay a traffic ticket when he was 18, and a $35 ticket became a $750 ticket before my daughter discovered it. It could be something as simple as that.

I live in Orlando where there are many foreign tourists. Last year a man was unable to get an ESTA because he had failed to pay a toll at a toll booth. His car rental company ultimately got the bill for the toll and mailed it to the UK so the man could pay it. He decided he would probably not return and decided not to pay it. Seven years later his family decided to return, and he was not allowed to come back because of the toll road ticket.

Even if you never want to travel to the US I would certainly try and determine what that situation is because it is probably not a great idea to have your name on such a list.

For all people who travel on ESTAs: If the OP had just obtained a regular Visa would this have happened to him? Could the US revoke his visa at the airport?

As a US citizen I am always embarrassed when these types of things happen to people who only want to visit the US. You should understand that the lack of logic in TSA decisions also impacts us as citizens of the US. I personally feel no safer because you were not allowed to travel, any more than I feel safer when I watch them do a pat down on an 85 year old lady. I think 98% of what TSA does is just theatre to make the flying public feel safer.

Still, while we were not paying much attention to who entered the US, we allowed terrorists to come into our country. We let them take flying lessons, and we made it very easy for them to take over planes and kill thousands of innocent civilians. It is a day firmly embedded in the brain of every US citizen who watched those towers fall. We, both in and out of the US, have apparently made the decision to sacrifice some of our personal freedom and privacy in the hope of preventing a similar event in the future.

It is a net that catches many innocent people, and I am truly sorry that you were one of those people.

Bingley, United...
Destination Expert
for Edinburgh
posts: 26,946
46. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

< Tough job you know. They need to be on top of things 100% of the time. Anyone wishing to do harm only needs to get lucky once. >

Everything is justifiable for "security". Ban someone from flying because they are brown, ban someone from flying because someone has a name similar to that of a "person of interest", ban someone from flying because they share the same birthday as "someone of interest". Heck this is the organisation that banned Senator Edward Kennedy from flying because of his links to terrorism.

It's safe to say that the DHS has caused more harm to the US than anyone since the Japanese Navy.

Edited: 1:48 am, August 28, 2013
London, United...
posts: 48
reviews: 3
47. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

At # 44 - No reasons given over why ESTA granted over 5 weeks prior to travel then revoked at point of check in. My suspicions are around the fact of who i am am. Non caucasian, mid east sounding name and of a particular belief.

BUT before anyone starts ramming war on terror etc down my throat, let me make matters very clear !

I Treat ALL people as equals, reagrdless of race, belief, colour, gender, ability, disability etc etc. Thats how I have been brought up by my parents and by my faith. There are many horrible people out there of all races, creeds and beliefs. Whilst I have my faults, I respect humanity and promote peace between all.

I have been denied travel on the Visa Waiver programme in very suspect circumstances, through no fault of my own. This action may be down to one individual or a collection of individuals who under the banner of so called security have shown their underlying prejudices towards me and my family. If this is not the case then why approve my ESTA over 5 weeks back, then revoke 2 ESTA's prior to check in, and then revoke 2 others after check in and allow a child to travel on his own? Did they only find out i was a risk? I thought intelligence on such matters is so sharp that, IF and its a big IF, I was such a threat, then they would have picked me up at application stage !

This whole issue is down to one or a collection of individuals putting prejudices before common sense. If not then they would have come out from under the stone they lie under and talked to me at the check in desk, given a valid reason and given me assurances that my name and creed were not an influencing factor. Better still they would have revoked my application at the start or soon after and allowed me enough time to apply for a visa. I have no problems applying for a visa and am confident i would get it without a problem. I have nothing to hide, no criminal records or other unwanted connections. Both my wife and I are professional, educated people in respectable and responsible jobs and have three children , two of which are university under graduates studying at top UK universities.

This holiday was our chance to be as a family and share memories. So far its been a nightmare. But despite losing over £7K ( possibly more with non refundable excursion costs etc), we have booked on another vacation, for the same sort of cost, as we are determined not to spoil our summer.

The US consulate in London did their best under the circumstances, and for that I thank them. But the individual or group of individuals who have decided my fate should have a look at themselves and ask the questions why they have done what they have. They could have done their job without the prejudice, applied common sense and not left the matter to the point of check in. This shows they just did not want me to visit their nation.

Shame, as i thought we lived in a free world, but it seems not if you are of a certain creed and race.

This might sound dramatic, but its how me and my family feel over our treatment. The embarrassment of it all is something i wouldnt wish on anyone either. Also, I am now told, that as my ESTA was revoked, and as I am not travelling to the USA ( through no fault of my own) due to time issues over the visa, the perception could be formed that I have something to hide or am guilty ! This could now mean silly and stupid hasstle at all of the worlds airports...GREAT !

@ # 45 ( Busy Retired)

I sympathise with you and what you may face

@#46 ( Alanrow)

Comments noted and fully agree that every country has the right to ensure unsavory and unwanted people are kept away from travel to safeguard others.....But at least apply common sense and do things a lot better.

As long as this criteria is applied correctly, no one will be treated unafairly.

Finally, I am determined to visit the West Coast as its a beautiful part of the world, and one which I want to see. I have been to the USA a few times but more the northern east coast states. I have liked the USA and love the warmth of the people I have met in the past both in the US and in the UK as well as other parts of the world. This has not put me off travelling to the USA, in fact made me even more determined to go.

I have nothing to hide and am certain i would have no problems with a visa etc. Only reason for not going through visa process now is lack of time .

I wish all travellers the very best and hope the ESTA problems I have had are not repeated for you. To those who may share a cultural background similar to mine, be warned and do you checks over and over again...or just pay for a visa rather then risk ruining your holiday.

Off to Thailand tomorrow, no need to pack as my bags are still packed...

Watford, United...
posts: 3,929
reviews: 12
48. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

Well said MH. Have a great trip to Thailand.

London, United...
posts: 48
reviews: 3
49. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

GUESS WHAT FOLKS???

As you may be aware I was due to travel to USA on re-scheduled filight today ( in the hope I would get visa etc)..but this is now cancelled....

Just got another mesaage from ESTA....guess what...my 12 Year old son, who was always on the "OK" list and good to travel...is now revoked !

What sort of risk can a 12 year old pose? Perhaps he might spill his drink on someone or make too much noise or use his play station controller as an offensive weapon...maybe even threaten national security with his comic books !

This is now become a joke. Maybe ESTA have been reading my posts...the update status just arrived as soon as I had put in post 47 !

I am now p**sing my self laughing at the whole thing....12 year old deemed a threat.

Ha ha

Romford, United...
posts: 2,065
reviews: 23
50. Re: Last minute ESTA status change

It's a ridiculous, bizarre and ultimately for you a very costly approach that the DHS has adopted, if we take this criteria to the extreme then large parts of East and North West London will be ineligible and anyone from Bradford-don't bother to apply for one

I sincerely hope you and your family enjoy your holiday in Thailand and they eventually get over the trauma of the last few days

Edited: 4:05 am, August 28, 2013