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The Press-News column Aug 12

Why are late-night flights into Christchurch Airport such a turn-off?

I don’t consider myself a particularly impatient or intolerant sod. I’m not a red-light runner, I don’t misappropriate mobility car parks and I certainly don’t indulge in that egregiously piggish practise of pre-parking your trolley in a supermarket check-out lane, only to skive off for a few final purchases, before rejoining your queue-jumped trolley.  But even the virtuous patience of a saint is being zapped by the absurd processing delays confronting passengers who arrive into Christchurch on a late-night flight from Australia. In the Smart Gate age, I find it now only takes about thirty minutes, even less, to navigate through Customs in most Australasian airports. But for most passengers arriving late-night into Christchurch, you can double that processing time. Where possible, I avoid flying home on those flights, because of the bilious bottleneck that overwhelms the processing area. In conversation with Christchurch Airport’s Chief Executive last week, Malcolm Johns and his team are acutely aware of this on-going reputational problem, which constantly rears its head in customer feedback.  Johns is on a mission to revive the Australian visitor market, because Australians account for 80% of the post-quake passenger traffic decrease.  Between 11.30pm and 1am, five to seven Tasman flights arrive, every night.  Our geographical position puts us at the fag end of many carriers’ Tasman scheduling. It’s not uncommon for a thousand passengers to be playing the processing waiting game, at the same time.  With only 3 smart gates available and a couple of staffed passport control booths, that’s the first bottle-neck, cutting right across the Customs Service’s stated aim of  “allowing travellers to cross the border smoothly and efficiently.” But the biggest snarl-up, occurs after the baggage carousel, in the interminable wait to handover your arrival card at the Customs Quarantine check-point. There are no green or red lanes, but three long roped channels that cannot cope with the peak demand, spewing out into the hall and morphing into a heaving scrum of huffing, dog-tired humanity. Passengers despair, their faces hang like dropped pies. First impressions count, and this late-night airport welcome is the worst possible reception Christchurch accords visitors – let alone returning locals. The Customs Service advises me there are no plans to increase Christchurch staff or resources. Their stretched local officers do their best, cheerfully and professionally. ( Unlike the obnoxious Auckland official who recently asked me, on arrival from Bangkok, whether I was carrying any child porn! ) Christchurch Airport has launched a review of the arrival process – and how to enhance it. Customs must enhance its late night resources.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as first published in The Press. August 12.

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