Simon Calder: Fancy a trip to Mexico? The US has the final say

The man who pays his way

As the Easter holidays approach, plenty of people besides you (and possibly your family) take an interest in your travel plans – from the milkman to your insurance company, which will want to know if you intend to try anything tricky or stray into trouble zones. But starting this month, another organisation has British travellers in its sights: the US Department of Homeland Security.

Following the terrible events of 9/11, and several subsequent terrorist attempts to murder people using civil aircraft, the Americans take an understandably close interest in the identities and motives of everyone flying to the US. Before any trip to the 50 states, you must reveal your plans to the American authorities. They then make "pre-flight comparisons" against watch lists belonging to a multiplicity of agencies, including the FBI – and even the Center for Disease Control's "Do Not Board" list. If your details match someone, you are off the plane.

Up to now, there has been a simple way to eliminate the danger of being denied boarding: don't buy a ticket to America. But as The Independent revealed this week, you may now fly to Mexico, Cuba or eastern Canada only if the US authorities agree.

The Department of Homeland Security requires airlines to send passengers' full names and dates of birth at least 72 hours ahead of departure. And that plane may leave the gate only when the US says so. A spokeswoman insists: "The US government has the authority to refuse entry into its territory any flight it deems to present a threat to its security."

Consequently, British passengers flying to popular destinations such as Havana and Cancún, as well as to the major Canadian cities of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax, face the prospect of being barred from a flight by officials of a country which they do not want to visit.

While a Heathrow to Mexico City flight spends several hours traversing US airspace, other journeys covered by the new rules do not. The Canadian carrier Air Transat warns passengers who book to fly from Glasgow to Toronto and Gatwick to Halifax – routes that do not normally touch US airspace – that failing to supply personal details "could result in passengers being refused to fly".

Compared with the increasingly onerous demands made upon international travellers, the data demanded is not especially intrusive. But the principle is preposterous: that the US has the final say about who can fly the Atlantic.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, says the UK Government should "engage in urgent and constructive discussions with the US authorities to make sure those travelling between Britain and Canada, Mexico and Cuba can have the same rights as people on any other journeys around the world".

The logical conclusion of the American argument is that any plane from anywhere in the world that is technically capable of reaching the US has to be regarded as suspect. For example, our old friend the easyJet flight from Manchester to Sharm El Sheikh has enough fuel to cover the 2,551 miles to Egypt's Red Sea coast, and at least 10 per cent more in reserve. This puts New England within reach of Manchester– so everyone on board should surely be signed off by Homeland Security too.

Homeland Security rules the international airways

Giving country A the right to decide who can fly between countries B and C is the thin edge of a dangerous wedge. You may wonder where you were when a treaty was agreed that assigns to the Americans the right to meddle with your travel plans. Surely you would have noticed.

In fact, no treaty has been negotiated because the US authorities believe none is necessary. A spokeswoman says the new rules are "consistent with US international treaty obligations". Any airline, such as British Airways, Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic, that wants to fly to America must agree to abide by Homeland Security regulations. If these rules are extended to cover flights over, or close to, US territory, the airlines have to comply – or risk being banned by the world's only aviation superpower.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little