In travel, last minute moves can occasionally lead to great hotel rates, or spontaneous getaways, but if you don’t do a little housekeeping beforehand, they may lead you right back out to the airport curb. Destination: home.

Earlier this year, the United States tweaked the language on the ESTA site, which grants visitors an electronic travel authorization to enter the United States, a requirement before boarding a US bound flight. Whereas applications typically took minutes before, the program instituted a 72 hour guideline. This past weekend, a system error caused large numbers of passengers to miss their flights, which merits a reminder…

ESTA System Outage

Apparently, the whole entire world doesn’t read GSTP, and many who were hoping to travel to the United States this weekend hadn’t already completed their ESTA’s. Even though the USA says it now takes 72 hours for an approved application to come through, in practice, it was still taking under 24 hours for most people, so some chose to leave things to the last minute.

That, or they forget theirs had expired.

Either way, a system update caused the ESTA application system to go down, and those who were counting on the last minute magic we’ve long experienced were completely out of luck. Large numbers of people were forced to turn back home because of this simple travel error.

Apply For An ESTA Early

There’s literally no benefit to waiting to apply for an ESTA. If you choose not to use it during the two year validity, you’re only out $14 dollars, and renewal is easier and generally faster than a first time application anyway.

If you have planned, or even potential travel to the United States, this is a friendly reminder to get your ESTA done now, so that you can sit back, relax, and just worry about your luggage making it, rather than you yourself.

For those who travel to the US frequently, it’s also worth noting that it’s easier to apply for Global Entry than ever before, with a few locations for interviews now outside of the USA. The $100 fee covers 5 years of travel, even for citizens of many other countries and generally means wait times of under 5 minutes for entering the USA. It certainly beats 2.5 hours…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. You are plugging Global Entry (and it is really useful) and mention the $100 application fee, but you never mention that UK applicants need to pay an additional £42 to the UK Home Office for a ‘background check’ you must have before you apply for Global Entry.

    1. And that’s because I am speaking generally to a broad audience across multiple countries, many of which don’t have that fee. I’m glad you noted it, but I can’t write everything entirely centric to the UK.

  2. I almost fell foul if this myself this Monday. 16 hours before take-off, I realised my ESTA had expired. Cue a tense wait to see if it would be approved in time (it was… only a four hour wait. Phew!).

    Global Entry is a no-brainer, even if you’re expecting to visit the US only a few times over the next five years. You don’t even need to book an interview anymore. Most of the international airports now offer interview on arrival, with no pre-booking necessary. My renewal interview was processed quickly at SFO – the whole process was complete before the bags had even been delivered to the carousel.

  3. In fairness to Mr Barron and your readers outside the United States, I do feel that after recommending Global Entry, you should make it clear that, apart from citizens of the US, it is only available to citizens from 12 other countries including Canada

    In effect, I am assuming from your quite large Global Following, that the majority of your readers will more than likely have no access to the programme

  4. That’s the reason why I always have a valid ESTA on my passport. You never know what might come up! For global entry I have thought about getting it but since I’m only a student and don’t exactly know how often I will enter the US in the next couple of years, I think I will wait.

  5. I applied for a Canadian eTA whilst at the airport, and received a response within 5 minutes. The US travel authorization systems smack of incompetent security drama, imho.

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