Customs and immigration formalities are a necessary evil, but sorting them before you land is always a better option. So I’m really hoping that a trial to simplify Australia-New Zealand travel gets taken up fast.
Picture by Phillip Capper
It's the moment every Aussie traveller dreads. You've been flying for 14 hours or so to the US, but the worst is yet to come: the immigration and customs hall at LAX. You elbow past everyone in sight to get towards the front of the queue, but no matter how speedy you've been and how many grannies you've barelled, you still face an interminable wait for your chance to get fingerprinted, photographed and quizzed by a surly customs person.
It doesn't have to be this way. If you fly into the US from Canada, you still have to do the immigration palaver, but you go through all that in Canada itself. After clearing Canadian formalities, you deal with an entirely separate group of US officials, and are cleared for entry to the US. That means when you land Stateside, you can pretty much get off the plane. That arrangement suits the US, which is filled with airports that don't have proper inbound passenger processing facilities, but also makes life easier for passengers.
A similar system is in place on the Eurostar between London and Paris; you clear both countries before you board the train. There's a potential downside to this kind of system if you don't arrive at the airport (or station) until the last minute. If you're like me, however, and routinely show up for these kinds of things hours early because you've allowed for potential disasters on the way, then getting immigration out of the way is as good a means of passing the time as anything else.
Last year, we reported on a system introduced by Garuda which offered advance visa processing before hitting Indonesia. That felt like a step in the right direction, but a new trial running between Australia and New Zealand has even more potential.
Under a newly-announced trial, passengers travelling from Auckland to the Gold Coast who have a passport suitable for use with the SmartGate kiosk system can process their passport at a New Zealand kiosk and skip having to do the same thing when they land in Australia. Instead of feeding in their passport again, they can progress directly to the gate where photography happens.
That's not quite as efficient as actually getting to step straight through on landing in Australia, but given our strict customs regulations that was always unlikely. The scheme will likely be extended to other cities once the trial finishes in July next year. We know that nearly half of Australian travellers now use SmartGate, so it's great to see the technology being deployed more effectively.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has spotted Jacki Weaver and Molly Meldrum more than once while lurking in the LAX queue, but is far too shy to say hello. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.