5th June 2019
With my flight to Honolulu not scheduled until 4pm, I had time to lie on in bed, then take three buses rather than a taxi to the airport, and still arrive hours early. When checking in, the woman behind the desk asked me if I had a return flight booked from Hawaii to Melbourne.
“No, I’ve got a flight booked to Alaska,” I told her.
“And where will you be flying to after Alaska?”
“I’ll be going by road to Canada.”
“Do you have any proof of booking to show how you’ll be getting to Canada?”
“Eh . . . no. I don’t have anything booked yet.”
“Ok, what about your flight out of Canada? Have you got that booked?”
“Eh . . . no.”
She clicked around on her computer screen, scanning it over and over.
“Ok,” she said eventually. “Well to be able to board this flight, you’ll need to show proof you’re leaving the United States, to a country that’s not either Canada or Mexico. Do you have any proof?”
“No. I’ve only got my flights to Hawaii and Alaska booked at the moment.”
“Ok, well give me a minute, I’ll go check with my supervisor.”
She stood up, and walked away from the line of check-in desks, to speak to another woman off to the side.
I stood where I was, my mind racing through possibilities. Perhaps I’d have to buy a flight from Canada to Central America? What about California to Central America? Would I need a flight from Alaska to the Lower Forty-Eight in that case? How expensive would this all be? Could I find an airline which refund me some or all of the money when I inevitably cancel the flights?
After five minutes, which felt a lot longer to me, the woman returned.
“That’s all good,” she said cheerily. “No worries.”
I didn’t ask her what had caused the confusion. I reckoned it was to do with the fact that I was travelling on a standard US tourist visa, rather than the visa-waiver program, as those from Europe and Australia usually do.
I had another scare when passing through Australian customs. When I scanned my passport in the automated barrier system, the computer told me that my case could not be processed, and that I’d have to go speak to an officer. As I approached the manned booths, I wondered if some traffic fine that had gone unnoticed and unpaid was about to catch up with me, and how many hundreds of dollars I may be forced to hand over. But, when the man in the black Border Force uniform scanned my passport, he just handed it back, and waved me through. And, with that, my dealings with Australia came to an end.
After a turbulent eleven hour flight, on which I got very little sleep, I stepped out into Honolulu International Airport. At 6am local time, the international arrivals section was quiet. I queued up at the automated passport scanners, wondering if the process might actually run smoothly; if my worries about being taken aside for questioning were unfounded.
“TRANSACTION NOT PROCESSED” the screen flashed, after I’d scanned my passport and had my photo taken. The machine told me to take the printed ticket, which showed my face and details with a big X across them, and go see an officer.
“How long will you be spending in Hawaii?” the uniformed man behind the booth asked me.
“About a week,” I said. “I have a flight booked to Alaska on the 12th.”
“And where will you be going after Alaska?”
“I’ll be heading into Canada.”
“Have you got a flight booked?”
“No, I’ll be travelling by road. I haven’t booked the bus yet.”
“How long will you be spending in Alaska?”
“About three weeks. I want to be in Vancouver for the start of July.”
The Customs Officer looked at my passport, and the US visa glued next to the photo page. He asked the question I’d been nervously awaiting for the past week.
“Why was your ESTA denied?”
“Because of my previous travel history,” I said, using the answer I’d had pre-prepared all day. “I’ve spent time in Iran.”
I paused, then quickly added “For tourism purposes.”
He looked up from my passport, and started at me quizzically.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Like, where?”
“I was on holiday two years ago in Iran,” I said.
“Oh, Iran! I thought you said ‘around’,” he said with the smallest chuckle, as he stamped today’s date on my passport. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” I said, and walked into the United States.