Airlines operating on American routes are anxious that passengers may forget to pre-register for the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), as will be required by the US Department of Homeland Security from 12 January 2009. Under these new US government requirements travellers will have to obtain online authorisation at least 72 hours before their scheduled departure so that passenger lists can be screened for potential terrorists and other "undesirables."
What is making airlines anxious is the fact that travellers who omit to pre-register for the VWP and fail to present an authorisation number at the time of departure will not be able to board their flights. Critically, they will also not be eligible to receive any compensation for costs incurred by the delay.
Currently travellers from the EU, Australia and New Zealand use the VWP the old-fashioned way, which is they fill out landing cards during the flight. Airlines are anxious that come January they will have to deny access to travellers who have not undertaken the new procedure, even though they hold a valid ticket.
Industry sources say that airlines are not liable under the US visa rules for any costs or inconvenience suffered by travellers that have not obtained advance authorisation.