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Customs, Civility and the Lack of It


By Richard Moore

I get extremely peeved at airport officers who get officiously ratty at travellers.

Now I understand they have to deal with people heading off on adventures, or arriving back suntanned and relaxed, but they are being paid for a fairly easy job and they should have respect for well-behaved travellers.

Yet, as many times as not, they just can't help themselves and throw their weight around against those people.

I'm a pretty happy flyer and all I want to do is get through security, buy a few botts of duty free and then write, read or watch a movie.

Surprisingly, I'm not a terrorist - having no particular ideology that makes me want to blow a plane out of the sky when I am sitting in it - and I do not object to the ever more stringent security levels we travellers must put up with.

As long as airlines feed me, water me and then let me enjoy a movie I'm happy as a sandboy.

Anyway, on a trip to Melbourne this week I've had both the good and the bad of airline travel.

Arrival at Tullamarine airport was a breeze - surprisingly so - because Saturday mornings are normally nightmares with 15 bazillion flights on the tarmac leading to spending half your holiday in the Immigration queue.

This time it was about five minutes to zip through both Customs and Immigration - a feat unheard of since Moses parted the Red Sea.

However, that miracle did follow a 20-minute wait on the plane while a suitable ladder was found to get us off the flying tube while we were parked on the runway halfway to blinking Sydney courtesy of airport extensions.

Anyway, after a fabulous week in the most liveable city in the world - we zipped out to the airport for the flight home.

In security we took out all our metal bits and pieces, together with wallets, passports, sunglasses et al, and put them on a tray for x-raying. Laptops, cameras, and jackets also went through.

Then - for the first time in hundreds of flight - I was asked to go through a body scanner.

What? Do I look like freaking ImanOverladen Bin?

Ah well, there I was in the circular cubicle as something went swoosh swoosh around me. Oh I have to put my hands in the air? Like surrendering? Okay. How about a dance? So I did my celebrated wiggly-knee dance. The security guys and gals thought it the best one they'd seen all day and smiled as I got clearance with the word OK flashed on the screen.

Alrighty then, on to Customs.

We got there and watched as the Customs woman ahead laughed with the couple before us and called us through.

My partner, an American, went first. She smiled, handed over the documents and then Meredith of the White Glasses stared at her.

Not a please, thanks or a smile.

Then she curtly snarled: "Move your hand away from your face!" Surprised by the rudeness, my good lady did so.

Hmmmm, she can't like Americans I thought and as my turn was next I bounced over and presented my best passport-photo lookalike impression.

She wasn't thrilled.

"This isn't the place to be cheeky, or stare like that around here," she said coldly.

Clearly she was an Aussie who didn't like Australians either.

"We can take it the wrong way and we'll treat you as being suspicious."

Ooooooo Ms Freaking Happy, how about I tell you what I really think of your attitude, your hair and those bloody stupid glasses that may look fine on a teenage girl but not on a 50-something.

But as all travellers know, if you want to be publicly crucified you just need to annoy one of the little tin gods of the airport and so my good lady hosed me down to cool the bubbling anger.

I'm prepared for a bit of verbal biffo with rude airport staff because being an experienced traveller I never go over the official limits of anything, carry items that could be remotely deemed dangerous or make stupid jokes about bombs.

So what's the worst they can do to me?

Search my bags. Go ahead.

Do a body search or even don the rubber gloves? Fine with me, just check the prostate while you are there fellas.

Delay me enough to delay the flight? Fat chance of that happening - the costs are too high.

So airport staff should learn to be perpetually civil to paying customers who, as they fly on the big silver bird drinking a nice shiraz, may be penning a newspaper column that will find its way on to the internet about mannerless nonentities.

Then again, they should just be nice because without travellers they are on the dole.







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