BA requirement for printed ESTA?

Old Aug 14, 23, 6:34 am
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BA requirement for printed ESTA?

I attempted to board a BA flight at ZRH today (flying ZRH->LHR->SFO). I had checked in electronically and been issued with a mobile boarding pass. At the gate the machine beeped and I got sent to a supervisor (DNATA I presume) who asked for my "printed ESTA". I calmly explained I didn't have a printed ESTA, Timatic does not require a printed ESTA (*), I had never previously been asked for a printed ESTA despite having flown this route many tens of times, and BA's own systems check ESTA validity. I was told that "we need to check has your ESTA might have expired" (I did not explain that a printed ESTA might have been cancelled and it is trivial to alter a printed 'application success' PDF to a later expiry date). After a fair amount of to and fro (as I didn't have the ESTA application handy on my phone) they said "let me check the system" and after a few minutes let me through.

Is there some new requirement to have a printed ESTA handy? I thought the whole point about the ESTA was that it is electronic (the clue being in the first initial). Or is this some fantastic new BA IT innovation? Or have I just been lucky many tens of times (I have Global Entry if that's relevant)?

* = I think there is technically no such thing as a printed ESTA. You can merely print the application status page that says "successful" - the ESTA itself is not a (publicly accessible) document.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 6:51 am
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At the bottom of the ESTA Authorization Approved document it is clearly stated:


DHS recommends you print this screen for your records.


Doc Copper
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Old Aug 14, 23, 6:53 am
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I have them printed to PDF and saved to Files on my phone. Don't think I've ever been asked to show one though
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Old Aug 14, 23, 6:55 am
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There are some outstations where they dont have the link to US CBP and ask for printed copies as a matter of routine - I think maybe OTP/BUD/SOF are like that.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:03 am
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Several years ago I got caught out on arrival at Orlando. The US Border officer asked to see my ESTA. I had forgotten to print it and being before smartphones I didn't have an electronic copy. I assumed that the US border force would be able to check their systems but was advised that some US entry points do not have electronic access to the ESTA system, Orlando being one of them. I had to use all my powers of persuasion to be let into the USA. Fortunately I had flown into the US several times in the recent past including ORD the month before and could show the entry and exit stamp for that flight. After that experience I always have a physical hard copy with a back up pdf on my phone.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:26 am
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Originally Posted by mikeyfly
I have them printed to PDF and saved to Files on my phone. Don't think I've ever been asked to show one though
I've done excactly the same thing, never been asked for it.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:42 am
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As a precaution, I carried a printed copy of my ESTA on my visit to the USA last month. I asked the immigration officer at PHL if he wanted to see it, but he said he didn't as it was on their system from the previous year.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:43 am
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ESTAs are now used in all USA airports where CBP is present (IT issues held that up initially) plus the pre-clearance locations. The slow roll out of this meant until quite recently (last year) you did not need an ESTA if entering the USA by land or sea, but that has now changed, all frontline CBP officers can check via their smart devices.

FLY / Alta is able to process ESTA checking anywhere, even remotely on separate PNRs, but it's just that some countries have very few ESTA travellers and have a tradition of asking for paper based evidence. From an agent's perspective they feel more secure that way since failure to check is often couched as something that would lead to termination. And of course termination of ground contracts. Hence the over-processing that goes on here. It's not helped that various things can go wrong with the ESTA checks, mostly at the DHS end, and so paperwork may actually be the better approach.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:43 am
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Always travel with a copy of my ESTA, the day I don't have copy with me is the day I'll be asked to produce it.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:45 am
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I had the same at CDG last year. Convinced it's jobsworth. If only because you're flying to London not the USA, so the ESTA can be checked in London if necessary.

I don't print it as 'my records' don't require it. Printed copies, what nonsense.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:48 am
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I’m even older school.

I carry paper copies of all travel related documents, for those times when you’re failed by IT, and, more often than not, I use them as my primary source when required, with the phone as the backup. This is particularly the case at boarding gates or train stations when you typically have to juggle cabin baggage in one hand while presenting documentation with the other.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent my entire career working in technology and know its limitations and frustrations.

Like those times when your phone crashes / loses connectivity / runs out of battery / locks itself out for five minutes at the most inopportune moments.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 7:48 am
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I've never been asked for it, and I stopped printing mine years ago, I don't own a printer anymore. Even my work has gone 'paperless' and printing is restricted.

However there is an official US Government website you can use to check your ESTA status -

Hopefully, if I was ever questioned, I could show that on my phone to the agent, as evidence. Or perhaps they could even use it themselves with my details to check. All the details it needs are printed on your passport.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 8:01 am
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I always carry paper copies of anything travel or visa related because I never trust myself to locate anything electronic when I need to. The only exception is boarding passes, where I am content to rely on the electronic version. That said I did recently manage to lose by mobile boarding pass between scanning at the gate and entering the aircraft- it just disappeared from my phone and when I logged back into the App I got the usual BA "not refreshed since 1965" and "We can find no bookings" messages. Thankfully I had remembered my seat number so it didn't end up being an issue.
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Old Aug 14, 23, 8:10 am
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I always carry paper copies as well as scanned in case of emergencies. Was asked once for sight of it at LHR T 5 a couple of weeks ago at fast track at flight connections travelling from HEL TO PHL- scanned copy was accepted - I wasnt the only one in the queue that was asked for it
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Old Aug 14, 23, 8:21 am
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Interesting thread! As a dinosaur, I have always carried the print-out in the travel wallet … because I can. Never envisaged it might actually be needed!
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