If you routinely fly the Australia-New Zealand route, on flights that generally last around three hours in the air, you’d be aware of the huge time consuming inconveniences involved in border protocols at both ends of the trip.
As is the industry lobby, the TTF or Tourism and Transport Forum, which has just co-published with the Melbourne based Airbiz consultancy, a lucid analysis of the history and nature of the problem and offered three scenarios for discussions as to a solution.
These are the idealistic single Australia-New Zealand border proposal that sank almost without trace, in the 90s, and more practicable but nevertheless conditional options for a full pre-clearance by flight, and a pre-clearance by individual passenger.
To cut to the chase, it is scenario two, pre-clearance by flight that leaps off the pages.
The proposal is that only passengers that have fully complied with all of the requirements of the border and security protocols at the integrated international and domestic terminals at each end of the trip can board the flight.
Those who enjoy the simplicity of leaving America for Australia through the same gates that sometimes serve domestic flights, and involve flashing the passport and the pre-printed boarding pass, and if necessary, the checked baggage sticker, and if additionally necessary, the electronic if not passport engraved visa, are all doing what the pre-cleared Australia-New Zealand flight option involves.
It’s just about the only thing to enjoy at a US airport, apart from a bath and change of clothes if you have the right lounge access, and have just arrived at LAX from Des Moines, Iowa, but that’s not always the case for this traveller.
Anyhow, think about the possibilities and rewards for the airlines and passengers on a trans Tasman flight. Having done essentially everything you already do on-line before going to the airport, or increasingly at a Smartgate type facial recognition passport reader that may also double as a boarding pass printer, you can arrive at and pass through an approved domestic terminal at the other end of the flight without any further time consuming international border protocols.
Just collected your stuff and leave, or make an onward domestic connection, hopefully not very far away, like any other domestic passenger in Australia or New Zealand.
The airlines are all for it. Virgin, Jetstar or Qantas can save many hours of sodding around with expensive-when-idle jets by integrating them into operational schedules that treat domestic and trans Tasman sectors as equal. Want to fly the A320 on several Sydney-Melbourne sectors and then do one of those cities to Christchurch or Queenstown and back? No problem.
The customers are happy with their time savings, and the airline is earning money from the asset for maybe an extra six hours in that particular day, which is an enormous boost to potential profitability.
However, persons not on those trans Tasman flights will be persons who do not pass muster on security grounds under existing protocols, or have failed even though they are legitimate customers, to fill in all the boxes they are supposed to fill in today, or insisted on packing several kilograms of past-use-by-date gorgonzola cheese in the suitcase.
The pre-cleared flight option is really all about the commonsense use of data that passengers already have to generate to fly trans Tasman routes now.
But it would also facilitate economically attractive alternative routes to say Auckland-Sydney by allowing potentially suitable domestic airports like Napier or Dunedin to be the destination on one side of the ‘ditch’ or Newcastle or Alice Springs or Yulara on the other side, or in the the red centre.
That jet could then go on to provide a domestic service to an airline that might otherwise be faced with the costs of towing it between current international and domestic terminals on at least one end of its daily tour of operation and spending large amounts on redundant border protocols, and extra crew times.
It is made very clear by the report that unless steps are taken to move more people through existing terminals faster and with less hassles, the growth in demand for trans Tasman trips will overwhelm the facilities.
Caveat: Well argued though the paper is, the force of its logic and scholarship may yet see it struggle to achieve early adoption or acceptance by the change-resistant factions in security and border bureaucracies.