Sky Squawk: adventures with ESTA, CBP, TSA, AA and BA

It was 3 years ago when I last handed over a boarding pass, but what with the introduction of body imaging scans, the negative reaction from the flying public, unfavorable media coverage regarding this, and of course one man’s failed attempt at blowing up his underpants, the idea of a trip back to Hawaii was more apprehensive than appealing. I’ve done the long haul from here to there several times since moving to Italy in 2003, but as of late, I really, REALLY dread any flight more than a couple of hours. Flying from London to LAX and vice versa was always the worst part (10-11 hours), but stepped up security measures put me on edge until we planted our butts on the plane to Kauai.

I suppose it all started with ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), the security measure put into effect for non-US passport holders. Airline passengers traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are subject to ESTA, and this meant that MotH now had to apply for/be cleared/pay fee of 14 bucks to obtain the go ahead before even setting foot on the friggin’ plane. Being married to a US citizen meant squat and the encounter at the British Airways check-in confirmed this. In fact, MotH was asked if had a green card, but when we replied that he had ESTA it was all they needed to know. The application process (online) was quick and easy, including yes or no questions that will determine the outcome of a request. My gripe is what’s stated even if authorization is approved as it did nothing to calm pre-flight jitters! I quote verbatim: “This does not guarantee admission to the United States; a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry will have the final determination.” Web: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

CBP – Customs and Border Protection. Thumbs up to the much-improved customs area in LAX. Memories of this part of flying into the states has always been insanely chaotic, but they did revamp the receiving room (everything looked new) and I discovered that foreigners could join their american spouses in either the US citizen or visitor line. We went into the visitor line since it was shorter. Now this is where it got interesting because after the usual questions, MotH had to be fingerprinted four times. First 4 fingers on the right hand, right thumb; first 4 fingers on the left hand, left thumb. Lastly, he did an iris scan. It all happened so very fast that you had no chance of even thinking “Whoa Nelly!” before being sent on your merry little way. Foreign travelers, now you know what to expect.

TSA – Transportation Security Administration. Generally known as security checkpoints anywhere else. Mention TSA and it always seems to open an overflowing can of worms, so I’m putting in my 2 pennies worth of what I’ve found to be uneventful procedures every time I’ve flown back to Hawaii. This trip I did the body scan for the first time ever in LAX! At both LAX and Kauai airports, TSA officers were super nice. Really, I thought these guys were supposed to be a**holes. Am I just fortunate to not be flying into the nasty places?

AA – American Airlines. They continue to be a reliable carrier although I don’t travel enough to accumulate frequent flyer points to make a difference. They’re included here for the food pics (what else?) and to say that the long-haul route from London to Los Angeles was fine.

American Airlines meal
Chicken and rice dinner.

American Airlines meals
Lasagna dinner and a focaccia-type snack.

BA – British Airways. I still need to file a claim for our 1 piece of luggage that never left Italy with us, only to arrive 3 days later. Still, the 2nd blow to come our way is that BA no longer gives free socks and sleep masks on their long-haul flights. I’ve flown with them for years because yes, all those little perks do stand out in my book and I’m willing to skip Expedia deals in favor of lovely Brit hospitality. Now you get a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a breath mint. Sad to see how budget cuts have affected all airlines, but a 300€ difference in airfares will make me hop onto United/Lufthansa the next time.

British Airways meal
Breakfast Box before landing in Heathrow (from LAX). I stuck this into my bag and forgot all about it when checking into the flight from London to Italy. Set off the alarm at the security checkpoint but got to keep my goodies.

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