Column: There ESTA be an easier way to travel

It seems that making your way to the USA is fraught with difficulties these days.

Kate's column

Firstly, there was the story of how my poor fellow Herald columnist accidentally declared herself to be a terrorist, causing no end of problems.

As it attracted quite a lot of attention, you probably remember the tale.

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It transpired that Mandy had ticked the wrong box on her ESTA form, which has to be completed electronically to be allowed into the country.

(I have to ask though – is it the most pointless question ever or do known terrorists quail at the thought of lying to the US government and immediately confess all by also ticking the box?)

Anyway, the reason this came back to mind is that another friend has booked a weekend to New York amid great excitement.

A (thankfully not serious) bout of illness made them question their mortality – as you begin to do more often when you reach a certain age.

So, you either resign yourself to rheumatic pains, increasing deafness or you do something silly – like booking a trip to New York in February when it’s going to be freezing.

As usual, I digress, but the point of this story is that, with poor Mandy’s experience in mind, she and her husband double and tripled checked their answers and whooped with relief when all was well.

That was until she checked her bank statement and realised that the ESTA, which should have cost $14 (around £9) had actually cost a whopping £79 each.

Surely some mistake? Well, yes and no. In their haste to book the trip, she had simply Googled the form, not realising that a paid-for ad was at the top of the list.

The company is doing nothing illegal – it does state in the small print, if you look for it, that their services cost £79 and that it would be a lot cheaper to go directly to the US government official site.

There’s something really, really, really annoying about feeling that you’ve been conned and it is threatening to overshadow my friend’s trip.

She’s been told, of course, that things could have been worse – and to concentrate on the fact that after all these years she’ll soon be ticking off climbing the Empire State Building and hailing a yellow cab off her bucket list.

And with getting to the USA being such a hassle, I think I’ll stick to European travels, knowing I can simply sail through customs with my European pass ... sorry, what?

Ah, yes. We’ll leave it there.