Native Nitwits

It’s one thing for a non native English student to err. It’s another for a large company in a non English speaking country to whack up great signposts with spelling mistakes – New Castle at Metro Auditorio springs to mind. The town it refers to is of course Newcastle – one word.

But what hope when a major British company, the nation’s premier airline, British Airways, cannot quite manage to word an important information section on it’s website??
Visa Waiver Programme

Each person wishing to visit the US must have either:

1a) An e-passport – if your passport is issued after 26 October 2006.
1b) A Machine Readable Passport – if your passport is issued after the 26 October 2005. (It must contain a digital photograph.)
A Visa Waiver Form (obtained at the airport on departure).


2) A valid passport.
A valid visa which must be obtained before travel from the US authorities.

Looks ok? May I point you towards section 1b), which is anything but ok. Bearing in mind this section is all about what type of passport UK citizens must possess to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. Section 1b) clearly uses a conditional, the word ‘IF”, which implies that a Machine Readable Passport is acceptable IF, and only IF, it has been issued after October 26th.

In brackets after that piece of text is further information which suggests that there may be two types of passports issued after the 26th October. That may be true, but by placing it in brackets, the text becomes simply ‘extra’ information, and isn’t relevant to the first part of the sentence, and is only an add on to the second clause.

BA – British Airways or Blundering Arseholes. Take your pick.

The bottom line is that this information provided by BA tells me that my Machine Readable Passport, issued in 1997 with a normal, non digital, photograph does not allow me to take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program.

Seeing as I have a flight booked for next Tuesday, and a replacement passport that is valid for travel takes 10 days to obtain, and a visa four weeks, this came as quite a blow! Even more so when I contacted the British Embassy for confirmation and duly received it.

A little more investigation revealed the truth. The truth being that BA’s staff, the buffoons who are responsible for the info on the web at any rate, do not know how to use punctuation correctly!

The sentence should have read –

1b) A Machine Readable Passport. If your passport is issued after the 26 October 2005 it must contain a digital photograph.

A single full stop (or period if you are a yank) changes the meaning entirely! And no need for any brackets whatsoever! Now, instead of saying that Machine Readable Passports are acceptable if they have been issued after the 26th October, the text states that all Machine Readable Passports are acceptable, but ones issued after the date mentioned must have a digital photograph.

Idiots! Idiot being the slightly less formal word for nitwit, just in case you were wondering…


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