Tag Archives: airport

In transit through a US airport

So you thought that being in transit through an airport in the United States wouldn’t involve immigration checks. How wrong you were, my dear friend.

And how wrong I was too. It was only one week before travelling via the USA that I realised I would need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Even though I would be on US ground only for two hours, and never leaving the airport. I would be “in transit”.

An ESTA is granted upon application to citizens of countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program, there is also a payment of US$14 fee. You must have been granted an ESTA before you start your trip and the official website to use is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. An ESTA is usually granted within hours, at the most, but leaving it to the last minute is never a good idea. Also steer away from any third-party websites that offer to assist with your application: they charge extortionate fees and it is unclear what they do with all confidential data collected!

As you check-in and drop your bag at departure, you will be asked about your ESTA approval. It is a good idea to keep a screenshot of your approval number on your smartphone.

Once you land at your transit airport in the USA, you have to use self-service machines to scan your passport and provide your fingerprints. The machine then spits out a slip that you will show to the immigration officers. If you have the “right” slip, you will be directed to the way out, i.e. the baggage claim area. If instead your slip has a big “X” in the middle – like it happened to me – making you feel like you are about to be refused permission to remain on US ground, you get directed to the immigration desks where your passport will be re-scanned and all your fingerprints will be taken again. Any complicated immigration issues will be assessed on an individual basis by the officers.

And yes, you still get an entry stamp on your passport!

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Finally you reach the baggage claim area, most likely confused as to what you are supposed to do (“didn’t my luggage get checked in all the way to my final destination?” will pop up in your mind), where you see a sign for Connecting Flights in the distance.

It all seems a bit over the top for a transit through an airport in a country where you will not stay. But I guess these days it’s better to be safe than sorry.

One final comment: having transited through both Miami and Dallas-FortWorth airports I can only support the comments from my American friends that immigration at Miami airport is the worst in the country!

Arriving in Marrakech

Standing lonely in the middle of the baggage claim area is my black trolley bag. Only two more bags around, and at a distance from mine.
I didn’t think I’d see my bag again. But it was there.

I had just spent almost an hour and a half (!!!) in the immigration checks queue at Menara airport in Marrakech.  It’s not like they didn’t have enough officers for the job: it was just incredibly slow. Painfully slow. Probably the worst I’ve ever experienced in my many years of travels. I was immensely relieved when it was over and even more so when I saw that my bag was still waiting for me.

Menara airport is incredibly modern. Fantastic and elegant main building, and now undergoing expansion with a second terminal to be completed in 2015. It blew me away!

The airport is only 5-6 Km from the Medina in Marrakech, and if you are on your first visit to this city catching a taxi to your hotel (£8-15 depending on your bargaining skills) is probably your best bet. The local airport bus is a lot cheaper but unless your hotel/hostel is located nearby one of the bus stops, chances are that you’ll get lost in the maze of alleys!

The taxi ride to the Medina takes you from the 21st century into the old part of Marrakech, characterised by old buildings, narrow alleys, colourful shops, men and women in traditional clothing. Such a contrast!

Marrakech, I am here to discover you now :-)

Escapism

What do you do when the pressure of daily life becomes too much? What do you do when you are not happy with all that is going on around you (or inside you)?

Do you treat yourself to a lovely meal in an expensive restaurant?
Do you indulge in chocolate icecream?
Do you go on a shopping spree and buy a new dress/handbag/pair of shoes/latest tech gadget (or all of them)?
Do you retreat in the arms of your loved one?

I will tell you what I do.
I book a flight.
And I go travelling for a few days.
(Well, not always. Or I would be broke)

 I have posted about my love for travels, planes, road trips, and the feeling of freedom they give me (check out Road Trip, On a plane and Boarding Gate). That is what I seek.

Last week I had enough of everything. Work was driving me mad. So I booked to have a Monday off just to give myself some space. A three-day weekend, mmmm, what’s the best use I can make of it???
I suddenly found myself staring at a map of Europe on GoogleMaps trying to identify potential destinations for a city break.
What European country have I not visited before? Where can I get a cheap flight to, at such short notice (i.e. 4 days)? Are flight times reasonable? Is there hostel availability in the centre of town? What currency would I need? Can I pack all I need as cabin baggage? Is my SLR camera ready?

An hour later I had completed my mission. Destination identified. Flight booked. Hostel accommodation booked. TripAdvisor cityguide downloaded on my phone. Bag semi-packed.

Four days later, at 3am, I was on my way to the airport for a three-day city break in Copenhagen!

Life ending for a suitcase

I had never thought that disposing of an old suitcase could turn into an interesting half hour…
I guess you would normally throw it in your weekly house garbage. Or into a skip.
But that would have been too easy! And I don’t do “easy”.

It all started in the morning. On my way to work I realised that carrying a suitcase that has only one functional wheel (having lost the other one last month) was not ideal. It doesn’t matter if it’s only cabin size, I packed it heavy! SweatingDragging it wouldn’t work. Carrying it on full lifting was good to build muscles but not easy on long distances. I arrived to the office in a full sweat. My usual greeting “Good morning team!” could not take the attention away from my dripping forehead.

So as I left work at 5pm, after diligently setting my Out of Office Reply On to cover for the next few days’ absence, I decided that action was required. And I headed to the nearest bag shop and bought a replacement. A nice black sports bag on wheels.

That left me with a new problem: how do I now dispose of the old suitcase? I am on my way to the airport and in a bit of a hurry, and now I have an empty suitcase with a missing wheel to get rid of. I certainly cannot leave it by a bin or in the street. Can you imagine the panic about unattended baggage?!

So as I got to the train station I asked one of the ticket officers for advice. “Please speak to the police community officers over there” was his answer. Well, mate, they seem a bit busy! It looked like a case of drunkenness-related accident: a middle-aged woman with slurred speech was repeatedly touching her head in pain. Her friend was talking while one of the officers was taking notes. I stood nearby in silence, watching until the two women were safely left in the care of the paramedics.police

“Apologies for such a trivial question but could you please advise on how I can dispose of this bag?” was my approach.  The two officers appeared puzzled. Suggested a couple of options only to realise immediately that they were unfeasible. And eventually they kindly offered to take my suitcase away and find a way to dispose of it without causing mass panic.

As I watched them walk away with what had been my faitfhul companion of so many short trips around Europe, I couldn’t help feeling  a bit sad…

Boarding gate

Airports and boarding gates: my favourite places!
This is where all the preparation, the planning and the excitement become real!

Today after a quick bag drop I got stuck in security for what it felt like an eternity. Not the one to miss out on an opportunity for a good argument, I got into a heated conversation with two overzealous security ladies who decided to go through every item in my handbag and backpack. With the highest point being: “Mascara is a liquid, listen to it when you shake the bottle! You should have put it in the little plastic bag”.  Yes m’am. Now let me proceed to my gate please.

So here I am now, staring at the screen displaying my flight number.
We are not ready to board yet so I entertain myself with some people watching. I wonder where everyone else is going. I wonder how many of my fellow passengers will join me on the second leg of this journey. Will I be again the only non-Russian on the second flight, like the last time?
I scan the waiting area to check how many (potentially screaming) babies/children will be on board. Is the flight full? Probably, the seating chart when I checked in online yesterday didn’t seem too promising. Will I be lucky enough to have empty seats around me? At this point I doubt. Are there any interesting characters around?

Why is eBackpackingveryone standing up now?! Uh the screen is flashing, they are calling my flight. Time to board!