I apologise if my back-in-Brisbane blog sounds like a whinge. My return last night, however, was marred by an immigration marathon that was as tiresome as it was unexpected.
I had flown to and from the UK with Singapore Airlines, whom I would highly recommend. They flew me from LHR to Brisbane in less than 22 hours and 35 minutes. That must surely be the shortest time possible for that route*. Singapore cabin staff are smiley and calm and they bring hot flannels as well as headphones and a menu and a pouch containing flight socks and toothbrush, and they will make you a cup of tea in the dead of a night flight if you ask them as nicely as they serve it.
But their great efforts to bring me back in the least possible time and with minimal stress were undone in about an hour and a half of airside... let's call it bureaucracy rather than the b word that springs to mind immediately.
Unfortunately I'd had to delay my return by 24 hours, so my seat on the second leg of the journey was pretty near the back of the Airbus 330 (which can carry 335 passengers, although this one wasn't full). Disembarkation took a while. I didn't dilly-dally in the toilet or have to drag an overtired toddler in my wake or stroll to passport control, thinking my bag wouldn't have reached reclaim yet. I walked briskly and with purpose. Alas, many people were there before me. So many, in fact, were already waiting in the non-Australian passport holders' queue that they stretched as far as the Australians-and-their-families line, and there was some confusion among latecomers as to precisely which end we should join.
By the way...
• As far as we know, no other flight arrival coincided with mine.
• It was 7.30 in the evening, not 3.30 in the middle of the night.
• There were just three officials dealing with non-Australians.
• To my knowledge there was no longer any industrial action affecting immigration at airports.
• When our international visitors have arrived before, it has taken them on average about 30 minutes to appear. Forty, tops.
Progress was extremely slow. Despite a pronouncement by Singapore Airlines on landing that Australian law forbids the use of mobile phones until passengers are beyond passport control, I rang my friend to tell him not to leave home if he hadn't already because I was going to be a while. Too late.
Once I reached an official, he quickly passed me through. I am a temporary resident who leaves and returns to Australia every now and again. But other visitors took far longer to be processed. Would it be silly of me to suggest that one of the several officials who scrutinised my Incoming Passenger Card** in the further long queue for customs might have been spared to identify passports at an earlier point in order to distinguish between the likes of me and, how shall I put it, more exotic first-time visitors? Brisbane is full of Brits after all, and I suspect New Zealand visitors might get hacked off in such an interminable queue, too.
Time was when, if you were entering the country with drugs (certain combinations of vits and mins that are unobtainable here) or food (Waitrose English Breakfast tea bags), which you'd identified on your IPC, you would be channelled in such a way as to be questioned and passed through quickly as long as it wasn't cocaine or a banana. Not any more.
And Australia must be one of few countries in the world that insists on security screening all your luggage as you enter the country. Visitors wearily lift heavy cases on to the belt.
I was short of sleep and all I wanted to do was see my friend on the other side of the sliding doors. I commented politely to one of the many officials that this was the longest time I had ever had to wait on my return to Brisbane. He wisely waved me through the middle of the scanning machines rather than towards the lines for them.
A quarantine department beagle lurked in my path, but was momentarily distracted by a box of what looked suspiciously like dog biscuits. I was through.
If ever you feel the need to vent your frustration in such circumstances, or to exhibit puzzlement or facetiousness at the reaction you get if caught in possession of an inadvertent apple: don't. Not if you want to get into Australia. The following incident might give you a flavour of border security in this land. I caught sight of the notice below as I waited for the Manchester Chapter at Brisbane Airport back in July. I took the picture because I am an editor and I liked the tautology of prohibited goods being prohibited. Armed police appeared at my side out of nowhere. I was not allowed to photograph a sterile area, you see.
* This included a short (two-hour) layover in Changi Airport. And we did have a tail wind all the way on the second leg
** This requires personal, travel and contact details as well as declarations relating to customs and quarantine