Summer tales II – the one where my sister almost didn’t get here

I am recapping my family’s visit and  our travel adventures from earlier this summer under the category “summer tales”.

My sister, BIL + niece arrived on Saturday, June 27th… but not without a previous scare.

In the night from Friday to Saturday, my phone rang around 3 a.m. My display showed my BIL’s number. I was instantly awake, because all that was running through my head was “This can’t be. They’re supposed to be on the plane right now!”.

They were flying from Düsseldorf to Paris to Minneapolis to Sacramento. And they were supposed to be on the transatlantic flight at this point.

If you’re familiar with the process of obtaining a travel authorization to the US under the visa waiver program (most European countries are eligible) through ESTA (electronic system for travel authorization), then you know that all passport and travel information has to be entered electronically before you travel and you have to pay a fee.

How those travel authorizations are “approved” is still a mystery to me.

Because as it happens, my sister’s ESTA form was approved, but she was denied boarding the aircraft to the US in Paris because one of the numbers on the form didn’t match her passport number (= there was a typo in the application).

What’s the point of approving the travel authorization when passport numbers are not counter-checked and nobody notices a mistake until you’re trying to actually get on the US-bound plane?

So yeah, just picture my sister (BIL and niece) in Paris, being denied on the plane, being sent from one counter to the next to try find someone who can help them fix the error and get reapproved for travel, trying to get rebooked on a new flight (on the first day of summer break, mind you!) and completely freaking out over having to handle this all in a foreign language (English, not French. She never took French in school, damn it.)

To be honest, my sister sounded surprisingly calm on the phone when she informed me what was happening. I think, her being in a classroom with 30+ screaming kids every day pays off in other areas of her life! Ha!

My mind instantly went into planning mode, because not knowing when they would arrive meant that our whole road trip (which was supposed to start on Monday) could possibly delayed or completely disrupted, and I was frantically trying to figure out how we could modify our plans in case their arrival would be delayed more than 24 hours (which looked likely at the time).

But stop holding your breath, we got lucky, you guys. Really lucky.

They managed to have her resubmit the data to ESTA and were able to rebook the three of them on a flight to San Francisco (which landed only 30 minutes later than what their original arrival time in Sacramento would have been). Big deal!

The only downside was that we had to drive to San Francisco (2+ hours one way) to pick them up instead of conveniently picking them up at Sacramento Airport (which is only 15 minutes from where we live), but we were definitely able to handle that!

I was so, so happy and relieved when they were finally here. And basically without any family time lost!!!


  1. I don’t know how they stayed so calm because I totally would have freaked out! So glad things worked out for them. And how in the world do they look so fantastic and rested after that long journey??

  2. Oh man, I am so impressed with the fact that your sister handled it so well because I would have PANICKED! I am so that that it all worked out and that they were able to get to SFO (although what a pain to have to drive further – but totally worth it of course!!!).

  3. Wow, that is INSANE! I definitely wouldn’t have been calm in a situation like that! I’ve only ever had travel issues once, missing a connection in Toronto that led to a missed connection in Calgary that led to a super late flight into Edmonton – but it wasn’t really a big deal because I still made it home the same day, and Nathan didn’t mind picking me up in the middle of the night. I’m glad things worked out! And I agree with Marie, they do look rested after such a long flight :)

  4. Uhhh ja, ich kann mich an dieses Waiver-Dings erinnern, als wir letztes Jahr in die USA reisten. Was für ein Schreck! Aber zum Glück sind alle heil angekommen. :) Viel Spass mit deiner Familie!

  5. OMG – I would have freaked out…. So glad your family made it! What a scary moment right at the beginning of your vacation!

  6. Oh my!
    I hate those forms. You never know if you are allowed to get into the States or if they sent you back right away.
    I once had a tiny scare in NYC with a grumpy old guy who just wanted some trouble.
    Good thing all worked out nicely for you!
    Happy weekend, Tobia

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