Can We Get Some More Onboard Immigration Processing Already?

Can We Get Some More Onboard Immigration Processing Already?

Indonesian airline Garuda has just introduced a scheme where some immigration formalities are performed on the plane before you land. All I want to know is: how quickly can we see this rolled out on other airlines?

Immigration queues are one of the seemingly unavoidable nuisances of international travel. When you’ve just spent 14 hours flying across the Pacific, the prospect of standing in a queue for another hour in order to get fingerprinted isn’t particularly appealing, but it’s pretty much inevitable.

Just how long you have to queue depends very much on your destination. I’ve long felt that LAX was the world’s most delay-ridden airport in this respect, but Heathrow can also be pretty bad if you arrive at the wrong time of day. In the case of the US, the process of photographing, fingerprinting and questioning everyone takes time; at Heathrow, it’s more a question of sheer volume. Other travellers I’ve talked to suggest that some locations in the Middle East can be just as slow, and occasionally slightly more abrasive as well. Aside from being fairly sure your luggage will have come off the plane once you’ve queued, there aren’t many obvious benefits to being delayed.

It isn’t always slow, of course. In many European countries, the process often seems to amount to little more than a rubber stamp and can be over very quickly. Indeed, when travelling within Europe, having a non-European passport can actually sometimes be quicker if there’s separate queues for EU and non-EU citizens, since there’s normally far more people in the EU queue.

Technology can make life easier. The SmartGate technology used in passports for returning Australians can also be used when visiting New Zealand. However, it seems unlikely that particular convenience will apply anywhere else in the world in a hurry.

With all that in mind, I was interested to learn earlier in the week that Indonesian airline Garuda is introducing an enhanced visa processing service on its flights from Sydney to Jakarta. Passengers pay for their entry visa on check-in at Sydney, and the visa is processed onboard before arrival in Jakarta, speeding up the process of exiting and actually getting on with your visit.

I can see that this might be trickier for airlines which offer a wider range of destinations than Garuda, which is very much concerned with flights focused on Indonesia It also won’t help if you don’t need to pay for a visa but will be quizzed extensively on arrival.

I’ll also be honest and admit that my parents inculcated me as a youth with the idea that Garuda, Air India and Aeroflot were airlines to be avoided at all costs, and I haven’t been able to shake that particular prejudice even though the air travel market has change dramatically since then. Nonetheless, if you’ve got several hours to kill in the air, organising at least some of the immigration formalities seems like a step that’s worth pursuing.

Got your own list of countries where immigration feels like it takes longer than the flight, or tactics for making the process easier? Tell us in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman does not enjoy standing in immigration queues, though LAX can be good for spotting celebrities. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • Although I think this sounds like a good Idea I that it all comes down to trust. Thnking about here, I don’t think the Australian authorities will want third parties entering and approving visas on behalf of immigration before entry into the country.

    Earlier this year there was a similar proposal so that if you were flying from NZ to Australia or vice versa that you could have all border security checks only done on one side of the ditch. The idea was that you could take off from one country and be pre cleared to enter the other with all security checks taken care of; that way you could fly into a domestic port and not even worry about immigration queues all together. This is still under consideration but if we can’t trust the NZ border authorities I doubt they will start trusting check in agents and hosties.

    I also can’t see it being acceptable from a political standpoint where we are in an environment where we are supposed to be scared of foreginers and refugees. Letting representatives of airlines based in foreign countries acting like they are Australian Immigration or Customs does not feel like it would get past the xenophobia test.

  • Having just got back from Bali, I can say the immigration in to Indonesia is pretty simple as it is. Show your passport and pay US$25, seconds later you’re be handed back your passport plus a slip of paper for “visa on arrival”. There’s then a very short queue for the usual passport photo check, to make sure you’re who you say you are.

    Does Garuda’s processing get around that passport photo check once you land? That’s the only real wait.

    • It certainly saves the “pay $25” stage as far as I can tell. Not actually clear from the PR description whether it also saves the photo-checking stage, though it seems that it might.

    • Do not be confused between landing in Bali and landing in Jakarta. Immigration process in the capital can be very long and costly depending on how much bribe you are asked for. I think that Garuda is trying to clear the immigration issues on the Indonesian side not the Australian side.

  • As a frequent traveller to and from Indonesia for many years, I’d like to know if I will also be able to pay my bribes in flight or will I still have to queue on arrival for that privilege?

  • Unaccompanied Minor for the win.

    It typically involves a free upgrade to business class, first one off the flight, someone to take you through a special queue for immigration and quarantine, the only problem is waiting for the bags.

    Also, since I’m under 18 and traveling on my own, security is quick and they don’t have permission to frisk me 😉

  • I’d like to see the UK doing pre-clearance at Australian airports the way the US does at Irish airports and others. It’s ridiculous that you can fly half away around the world and an immigration official in a bad mood or a thing against Aussies and Kiwis can turn you around without justification.

    The sheer volume of traffic between the UK and Australia must make it a no-brainer.

  • Why bother? If you’re travelling internationally, you probably have luggage & you’re going to have to wait for that anyway. A few more minutes in the Immigration line will only be a few less minutes waiting for your stuff.

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