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.