The question on the US Department of Homeland Security electronic form was simple: “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?” Yes or no.
A British travel agent stands accused of making a mistake and accidentally ticking the box marked “yes” when answering the security question on behalf of a client who had made a booking.
The client, retired British police officer John McGarry, says the agent’s mistake turned his dream cruise on Queen Mary into a nightmare.
The strange case was recounted by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, which said McGarry had gone to a local travel agent to book a 26-day New York and Caribbean cruise for the equivalent of AUD 12,400.
Booking completed, McGarry sensed something was unusual when he was summoned to travel from his home near Manchester at the crack of dawn – to be questioned and fingerprinted at the US embassy in London. He subsequently found out his travel agent had accidentally answered “yes” to the terrorism question when filling out the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
McGarry thought he sorted the problem out at the US embassy in London. His cruise eventually began. When the Queen Mary arrived in New York, however, McGarry ran into a reception he hadn’t expected.
McGarry, who was travelling solo, was escorted off the vessel by police and questioned about “terror links”. He says fellow passengers saw him hauled away and escorted back again. Rumours travel fast on cruise ships. Word got around, newfound friends he made on the ship suddenly shunned him and he was isolated for the remaining 19 days of his cruise.
“The cruise was ruined for me – no-one would come near me, it was like I had the plague,” he told the paper.
Upon returning home to Britain, McGarry contacted the travel agent and made a complaint. The agent sent him a GBP 150 (AUD 285) discount voucher for any subsequent holiday he might care to take with them, and suggested that if he had any problem, he might consider making a complaint to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
McGarry sent the voucher straight back.
The paper did not say whether McGarry has consulted a lawyer.
Written by Peter Needham