Agent Error Turns Man’s Dream Cruise Into Nightmare

Open Jaw

What happens if you tick the wrong box on the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) form? In one recent case, very bad things.

The question on the Homeland Security electronic form was simple: “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide?” Yes or no.

A British travel agent stands accused of accidentally ticking the box marked “yes” when answering the security question on behalf of a client who had made a booking.

The client, retired British police officer John McGarry, says the agent’s mistake turned his Queen Mary dream cruise into a nightmare.

The strange case was described in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, which said McGarry had visited a local travel agent to book a 26 day Cunard New York and Caribbean cruise.

Booking completed, McGarry sensed something was unusual when he received an early morning call demanding he travel from his home near Manchester to be questioned and fingerprinted at the U.S. embassy in London. That’s where he learned of his agent’s mistake on the form.

McGarry thought the problem had been resolved to the satisfaction of the American authorities. Some time later, he set off on his cruise. But when the Queen Mary arrived in New York, McGarry was escorted off the vessel by police and questioned about “terror links.”

He says fellow pax saw him hauled away and escorted back again. Then, McGarry says, rumours spread, newfound friends suddenly shunned him and he was isolated for the remaining 19 days of his cruise.

“The cruise was ruined for me – no-one would come near me, it was like I had the plague,” McGarry told the Telegraph.

Upon returning home, McGarry complained to the travel agent. The agent sent him a £150 future travel voucher and suggested that if he had any problem, he could make a complaint to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

McGarry sent the voucher back.

(will not be published)