Sunday, January 2, 2011

BOOT - 7 tips to make flying to the USA easier

Flying to the US can be hard work. There are forms to fill in, inspections to get through, constantly changing rules (so much so that the enforcers or the rules are often not up to date) and airports mired in outdated infrastructure, unable to cope with the numbers of people coming through. For the first time business or leisure traveler I give you business traveler tip number 8. Seven tips for making flying to the US easier

  1. Pre register for a visa through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization system (my earlier post on this). It was a long and confusing role out but as at the date of this post it seams that for many countries the green visa waiver form is finally dead. Instead you need to register before your flight at this website. This applies to the (currently) 36 countries on the visa waiver list (full list here). But beware, these rule change constantly. Check back before each flight;
  2. Avoid LAX if you can. You may not have a choice coming from Asia or the Pacific as to which airport you go through. If you do, choose SFO over LAX. There are less flights per day, the staff are more relaxed (in style not in rule enforcement) and the queue system more orderly. Clearly customs in SFO is simply less stressful that LAX;
  3. Get off the plane fast and keep moving. Once you hit your entry point airport presumably you will be on a plane with another four hundred or so people. Each of whom are doing the same thing you do. Each one you get in front of before the immigration queue is one less person you need to wait to be tagged, bagged and hash-tagged by the immigration team. Get off the plane first and move quickly;
  4. Do not joke or look frustrated with Immigration or TSA. I am sure there are exceptions to this rule and airport/customs/immigration/customs people are people too, but play it safe and play it neutral. No jokes, no expressions of annoyance, no crankiness, no harping, sniping, wobbling, jiggling, biting, kicking or screaming. Play it nice, polite, neutral and grateful (without being a suck up)
  5. Have a hotel/address ready. They will want to know where you are staying. Have the address and phone number handy. If you are staying with a friend or don't know then in theory you have to leave in blank and explain. That means longer in the queue and more delays. Better to put the name and address of a downtown holiday inn or equiv rather than leave blank;
  6. Bring some proof of your work or meeting esp if coming from Asia. Unfortunately there are links to nationals from many Asian countries and attacks on America including 9/11. As a result immigration has been known to be very thorough in their interviews and screening of some Asian passport holders. Therefore it is worth carrying a business card and meeting agenda/conference reciept/letter from your employer that confirms the purpose of the meeting. No need to present unless asked. Proof of return flight also a good idea; and
  7. Beware the Super Shuttle. Last thing you need after 14 + hours in a plane is the impromptu 2 hour tour of whatever town it is that you are staying in that will result from using a Super Shuttle or equivalent. A share bus/van arrangement like a Super Shuttle is a definite money saver but you pay for it with a long and winding trip to the hotel. Take a cab or book a car instead. On the price of the flight it will be a rounding error and worth every penny.
Any other tips?

thanks to im elsewhere via flickr for the photo

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