Travel is inherently a chaotic business. Things happen. Or they
don’t. There are flash floods one day and a transit strike the
next. For veteran travel agents and longtime clients, the only real
surprise is when a trip goes off without a hitch.
But even if you accept this premise, you’ve got to wonder why
the federal government is working so hard to become a large-scale
contributor to the headache factor of travel.
It isn’t just the Transportation Security Administration and its
ever-fluid procedures. (Before my last flight, my bare feet were
checked with a metal detector I was speechless.) It’s that
Washington has taken to issuing orders, sometimes over a weekend,
then rescinding them, then revising them and, sometimes, abandoning
the whole idea.
For example, the United States has allowed foreign nationals to
stop briefly, sometimes just to sit in an airport transit lounge,
while en route to their final destination. Over a weekend this
summer, the administration ended the program without notice. Some
travelers learned about the decision after their planes touched
down in the U.S.
It’s been two years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They
have been a busy two years, granted, but it’s past time for the
appropriate agencies to have a clear idea of what’s happening now
and at least a general idea of what’s needed. Why are these travel
pronouncements continuing to tumble out of Washington as if they’re
the product of a crisis-mode all-night pizza party?
The most recent example concerned passports carried by foreign
nationals. Washington had announced that, as of Oct. 1, all inbound
travelers must have passports that can be scanned electronically,
or they must have a visa.
Computer-coded passports aren’t all that common. Australia and
Japan have them, but The New York Times has reported that about a
third of the passports held in Western European countries, such as
France and Spain, cannot be scanned. So, about a week ago,
Washington sidestepped and said it would consider yearlong
exemptions for some countries.
Pizza, anyone? "