US travelogues: It was a real challenge to plan this trip in a short period of one week but we did it!
Applied for US Visa, on-line, on 24-June-2016, visited VFS Global for biometrics (photo and fingerprints) on 30-Jun-2016 and finally to US Embassy on 07-Jul-2016 for final interview. All four of us were called together and entire interaction was over in less than 5 minutes. Waiting period at the embassy was nearly 1 hour, which is not too much, keeping in view the number of applicants. Please note that it may take 3-4 working days for passports to reach VFS Office or a few more days, if you wish to have it delivered at home. I thought, it would take only 1-2 days and booked tickets for 12-Jul-2016, was lucky that all passports reached VFS in the evening of 11-Jul-2016. Keep sufficient margin between date of successful interview and your flight!
3 days and 6 flights, 7 airports and 4 airlines….. a memorable learning experience:
12th Jul 6.15 am Air India flight from T3 New Delhi to Domestic Terminal of Chennai Airport, arrival at 9am.
Next flight was Jet Airways at 1.15pm from Chennai to Madurai, arrival at 2.30pm
13th July: Jet Airways at 11.15am from Madurai to Chennai Domestic, arrival at 12.45pm
Chennai International Airport to Abu Dhabi by Etihad Airways at 9.45pm, which landed after 4 hours.
14th July: Changed to another Etihad flight to Paris after 2 hours.
This flight was for almost 7 1/2 hours and our next flight was after 5 hours.
Last flight was a Delta Airlines, to Newark, New York airport. Slept for nearly 5-6 hours in these 3 days!!!!!
My wife’s passport was issued in Jan 2000 fora period of 20 years and it is a hand written document.
When we approached counters of Jet Airways, the officer told that she cannot be issued a boarding card due to “hand written passport” as US immigration people don’t allow entry on such docs. I was just stunned as we had already covered our Indian destination (Madurai) and could not go back to Delhi. I insisted on getting boarding cards then they relented by saying “you will have to sign some documents”, these were (1) Letter of undertaking to the airline that we were taking this trip on our risk and responsibility (2) similar letter addressed to Asstt. FFRO (Immigration Officer), (3) Printed Indemnity letter to the airline that in case the traveller is deported, all costs will be borne by us.
After giving these to the airline people we got our boarding cards and the next hurdle was the Immigration Desk. He too stopped us and asked to get clearance from their chief. I went to him with the undertaking addressed to them. Luckily I had the phone number of their top boss, Commissioner of Bureau of Immigration, who has their office in Rama Krishna Puram, New Delhi. I had the privilege to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between Bureau and SBI in Oct 2013, as head of Institutional Division of New Delhi Main Branch, for payment of Visa fee by Card, using our POS machines. He too relented and allowed us to leave.
We had taken a hopping flight with 2 stops, first after 4 hours at Abu Dhabi and second after 7 hours at Paris. We were issued two sets of boarding cards from Chennai and were asked to collect boarding passes for the last leg (Paris to Newark) from Paris.
Our next worry was “How to clear Paris?” We had earlier tried for a trip to Schenegan countries (France, Switzerland, Italy etc) and the travel agent told us that these countries do not accept passports issued for more than 10 years. My wife’s passport was issued for 20 years. So we had to change our plans to UK & Ireland in June 2013. Now, we approached the check-in counter at Paris, arranged our passports in a way that my wife’s passport was last to be seen. The moment he opened it, his expressions were not good at all and said “Oh, this is not a machine readable passport”. I immediately responded “Yeah, I know, you have to enter these manually. We will get it changed when we return to India”. He just smiled back and started the data entry. All of us heaved a sigh of relief.
The next and final hurdle was Newark immigration desk! I again arranged the passports in the same order but the lady officer put mine on a side (as I was head of the family and had earlier travelled (thrice) to the US) and started with my son “what do you do for a living?” He responded politely “M’am, I am a law student”. Next was my daughter, facing the same question and the reply was “I am also a student, doing Masters in Law”. Next was my wife and she was too worried. When the officer opened the passport, found it hand written, she opened the page where visa is pasted. After scanning the visa, she cleared her too. I was also asked question to make sure that we would be leaving for our motherland after our trip, she saw our return tickets and let all of us enter the US.
The final check was Custom officer, who wanted to look at the value of Gifts / goods, which one is going to leave behind. As the total value was around USD 300 and he had already stopped one family for checking just before us, he let us leave the airport. All of us had a big smile on our faces!!!