A Sheffield couple's dream of spending Christmas in New York has been left in tatters after their travel authorisation was revoked the night before they were due to fly.
Ruth Barnett, 29, and husband Martyn, 36, of Shiregreen booked the ‘ultimate trip of a lifetime’ as a last chance to enjoy a ‘big’ holiday before plans of buying a house and starting a family next year.
But, after Martyn’s Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) application was revoked just 12 hours before their flight on November 29, their holiday plans were ruined.
Ruth, a development officer, says the couple were accepted for their ESTA at the beginning of November, and as they have travelled to America numerous times, they did not think there would be an issue.
She said: “We work hard all year round to pay for nice trips away, it's what keeps us going throughout the year. We saved for around eight months for the trip, holidays are what we live for.
“We’ve been to America a few times before, but we had to submit new applications as they are only valid for two years. Martyn got a new passport in January, and he has travelled twice since then. You have to fill out a new application when you get a new passport anyway.
“The application was approved no problem on November 6, just under a month before our flight.
“Our suitcases were packed and were in the hallway ready to go to stay at my parents in Manchester ready to travel.”
However, the couple were left devastated when Martyn, a finance assistant, checked his emails only to find his application status had changed to ‘denied’.
Ruth says the pair frantically rang the US Customs and Border Protection, who deal with ESTA applications, only to be told they couldn’t reveal why the application had been revoked.
“My husband has committed no crime and is certainly not a terrorist, he doesn’t even have a parking ticket to his name,” Ruth added. “We’ve even rang Homeland Security and have just been passed from pillar to post. No-one is willing to help.
“They just told us to go to the US Embassy, but it was around 6pm and they were shutting. We asked if there was anything we could do, some kind of emergency appointment, but none were given and a traditional visa could take five to 10 working days.
“All we were told was to make sure we got our ESTAs in enough time, which we did. We've lost everything, our hotel, flights, transfer, ice hockey and lion king tickets, plus our currency which we have had to change back so in total a dream holiday worth £2,500.
“We planned everything and were packed up and ready to go, our insurance won’t cover it as it’s a pre-travel requirement.
“It’s a destination and so expensive, our flights were with Jet2 and we’ve pleaded with them but they’ve said there is nothing they can do.”
Ruth says from what she can see online ESTA is an automated system, and mistakes on their part have happened, therefore she believes the pair deserve an explanation.
“My application is still valid,” she said. “But I’m scared to book to go to America again. They could deny my application on the plane with no explanation like they have my husband.
“How we’ve been treated is disgusting. We feel utterly heart broken, sick and cheated and this whole experience has made us both ill. It’s been a living nightmare.”
The US Embassy and Consulates in the UK refuse to comment on individual cases.
However, in a statement the U.S Embassy said: “The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
“There are a number of reasons ESTA can be denied at any point of the travel process. ESTA is visa free travel and some do not qualify. However, ESTA denial does not mean one cannot travel to the United States and travelers are recommended to obtain a visa.”