New Zealand’s economy is largely based on agriculture. And to protect our primary industries from the risk of imported pests and diseases, an efficient and stringent quarantine regime needs to be maintained at our borders. So as I arrive at Auckland Airport after travelling in the Outback of South Australia I am happy to declare my hiking boots and tent under the category “Other biosecurity risk items, including:…items that have been used outdoors…”
I have an hour and twenty minutes to catch my connecting flight to Christchurch; plenty of time for immigration, Customs and the blue line carpark hike across to the Domestic Terminal (really, Auckland?…really?)
Uh-oh. The queue into the MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) quarantine inspection hall is long. Actually, it’s three queues, bottle-necking down into one as it nears the inspection area. I have my tent and boots out, ready to be looked at as fast as possible. The boots are spotless: I scrubbed them in the shower of my Adelaide hotel the night before. Before I packed the tent for the last time I swept it out and sprayed it liberally with insecticide. Good Kiwi; doing my bit to protect New Zealand’s biosecurity.
It is 6:50pm. My connecting flight boards at 7:10pm. A MPI officer saunters past, clutching a piece of paper. I hold up my boarding pass and say: “Excuse me, I have a connecting flight to catch. Could someone inspect my gear straight away?”
He looks at me and says: “Better get used to the fact that you will miss that flight.”
Wait…what? I begin a somewhat less polite reply. But I’ve seen enough of those Border Patrol TV shows to know that upsetting these drones will not be in my best interest. So I wait. The MPI staff pick through baggage containing piles of undeclared fruit and fish: the usual stuff. A family of larger folk are ushered through from behind me. Their baggage looks like a scale model of Manhattan.
I text my wife who is making a two-hour drive to collect me from Christchurch Airport: “gonna miss my flight due to MPI idiocy.” She has to stop and wait in Ashburton. ASHBURTON for pity’s sake!
Eventually it’s my turn. I tell the inspector about my impending flight and the care with which I cleaned my camping gear. She says she must inspect the tent and that I will miss my flight. I sit and wait. It is now 7:05pm. The tent is returned. It is clean and I am free to go.
I complete the “Third World Airport Carpark Blue Line Sprint” in a new record, throw my bags at the luggage conveyor and arrive at Gate 32 just as the doors are about to close. I find my seat under the baleful gaze of a plane-load of passengers I have made late. My asthma attack is a minor inconvenience compared with the last hour.
New Zealand’s economy, based largely in agriculture, needs a stringent quarantine regime to protect our borders. And I’m sure MPI will say that their inspectors are only doing their jobs under difficult conditions, etc, etc, etc. But here’s an idea. New Zealand passport holders, who have declared specific and easily inspected items, should be fast-tracked through the inspection process, not held up by ambivalent lackeys. For my part, after this nightmare, I won’t bother trying to do my bit. Next time I’ll wear my boots and say nothing about the camping gear. I can already hear the sound of my name being entered into a database for future, more stringent attention. Oh well…
And the fellow who told me to get used to the fact that I’d miss my flight? I hope a fruit fly nests in his back yard.