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A few days ago I received an email from Customs and Border Protection. I stated that I got on September 25, 2012 a B1 / B2 visa, expiring on September 24, 2022.
 I booked my trip from November 20, 2017 to February 20, 2018 with final destination to Hawaii.

A few hours before the departure date (November 19, 2017) I tried to check in online on the American Airlines website, for me and my girlfriend. Her check-in went through, but not mine. They asked me to fill the Visa Waiver Program, even though I had a visa for 6 months.

I tried to call somebody in Italy to have some explanation, but because it was Sunday, I didn’t get any answer. I was very worried so I went online and I filled the form of for the Visa Waiver Program.

When I did the check-in at the airport, I asked and they didn’t see any problem about my B1/B2 visa. They told the maybe it was some technical problem.

Only last night when I got that email I realized that my passport was stamped with the 90 days ESTA visa, and not for my girlfriend. Maybe someone can help me to understand. Are airlines allowed and forced to use the ESTA if I still have a B1/ B2 visa?

What are the consequences, if next year I wish fly back to the USA? Can I use my B1/B2 instead of the ESTA (which is valid for 2 years)?

I will leave the USA on time, before the visa waiver expires. Please let me understand what I need to do.

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    I'm not entirely understanding the question here. What did the email from CBP say exactly? It sounds like you were admitted under the VWP instead of your B-2 visa this time, but you say you're not staying for more than 90 days, so you don't have a problem there and don't have to jump through hoops to get it changed. On future trips, you can make sure you ask the CBP officer to admit you under the visa if necessary, and double-check the stamp to see that was done before leaving the inspection area. Is that your question or am I missing something? – Zach Lipton Feb 13 '18 at 18:15
  • This is far from clear but it doesn't sound like you need to do anything. The airline just checks that you have "travel authorisation" in some form. You should have used the visa and saved the ESTA fee. – Tomas By Feb 13 '18 at 18:44
  • The email they sent me says : we hope to enjoy your staying in the United States we just remained you that that your ESTA will expire in 10days! Only after that I realize that they stamp me 90days instead B1/B2 visa. My question is can the flying company forced to use one visa instead the other ones ? – Andrea Feb 13 '18 at 19:57
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    The airline just checks for authorisation. They do not "use" X or Y. Apparently something went wrong on an airline web site. This has nothing to do with U.S. border control. – Tomas By Feb 13 '18 at 20:32
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    Actually, I am just guessing. Maybe the airline web site asks DHS and something else went wrong. – Tomas By Feb 13 '18 at 20:34
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This is simply a problem with the online check-in system of some airlines. Airlines can check if for a passport number, a valid ESTA exists. If you do not have one, online check-in may fail as they may be unwilling or unable to check your visa at the gate.

But that's not a real problem because then they will check you in at the counter at the airport instead after verifying that you have a valid visa.

  • First thank you all for your answers. We are complaining at American Airlines desk, but they won’t admit their faults . We are leaving today and we stop in Dallas and complain again – Andrea Feb 13 '18 at 22:03
  • Airlines can also send a visa number along with the passport number to get boarding clearance for those traveling with visas. See cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/un_edifact_guide_2.pdf. – phoog Feb 13 '18 at 22:16
  • @phoog - That requires a "visa number" field in the online check-in form, though. Not sure about American Airlines, but I once couldn't check-in online with a Lufthansa flight to the US exactly for this reason - there was simply no way to provide visa information on their website, and because I did not have an ESTA at that time, the system couldn't verify that I was allowed to fly. – DCTLib Feb 14 '18 at 16:51
  • @DCTLib I believe they now have an option to allow entry of a visa number, but they don't seem to allow nonimmigrants to check in for flights terminating in the US without details of the traveler's future plans to depart from the US, which of course may not actually exist if the nonimmigrant resides in the US. – phoog Feb 14 '18 at 16:56
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The airline should be able to handle travelers from VWP countries who have visas, but many airline systems seem to have been designed by people who have failed to take into account the fact that such travelers exist.

The next time you enter the US, present your passport to the passport inspector open to the page where the B-1/B-2 visa has been placed. Avoid using automated passport control if you can.

Because you plan to leave before the 90-day limit, you should not worry about any negative consequences of your having been admitted in the wrong status.

  • thank you. American at the moment they may refund me the cost for change the ticket... they starts from 900$ for 2 tickets and now they drop to 100$ . I will complain again in Dallas tonight to get more answers about all this mess.. – Andrea Feb 14 '18 at 1:15
  • @Andrea change the ticket? You haven't mentioned that before, have you? Why did you change your ticket? – phoog Feb 14 '18 at 1:46
  • Hi there small update from JFK after 2 hrs complain in. Dallas, nothing change, American seems not responsible ( what they said to me) if the system ask the Esta instead visa. My original date of return was feb 20. But because I received the email from US Custom to leave before feb 17. – Andrea Feb 14 '18 at 22:11
  • @Andrea perhaps you can ask to have your entry record corrected at a CBP deferred inspection site. – phoog Feb 15 '18 at 5:17
  • @Andrea in case you can no longer see my comment on your now deleted answer: XYou don't seem to understand: the fact that you were admitted on the VWP is not the airline's fault. It is entirely possible to check in with ESTA and then be admitted with a visa; it's not hard to find advice online to do that as a workaround for online check-in systems that don't accept VWP-eligible travelers without ESTA. Furthermore, your admission under the VWP was a mistake by the CBP officer. You should be able to correct it by following the link I gave in an earlier comment. – phoog Mar 2 '18 at 22:40

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